CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — One of the nation's largest coal producers said Thursday it expects to lay off 1,100 workers at 11 southern West Virginia surface coal mines by mid-October, citing dismal markets and federal regulation.
The announcement by Alpha Natural Resources dealt another blow to Appalachia's iconic, but dwindling, fossil fuel industry. The company said 2015 industry forecasts show Central Appalachian coal production will be less than half of its 2009 output.
It's due to a combination of familiar factors, Alpha said: competition from cheaper natural gas, weak domestic and international markets and low coal prices. Prices of coal sent to Europe for power are at a four-year low, and prices for steel-producing coal have dipped more than 20 percent in less than a year, Alpha said.
Another driving factor is that Appalachian coal just isn't as accessible anymore. Thick, easy-to-reach seams have been largely picked clean.
"Many mines in the region have done a great job finding ways to reduce costs and remain economically viable in this unprecedented business climate," said Alpha President Paul Vining, "but some Central Appalachia mines haven't been able to keep up with the fast pace at which coal demand has eroded and prices have fallen."
Alpha also laid some blame on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is pushing to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, part of President Barack Obama's plan to stem global warming. The plan has sparked outrage in coal-producing states, and has driven the political conversation in a heated election year.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin acknowledged the economic factors at play, but said Thursday's announcement shows West Virginia's fears over the Obama administration's rules have come true.
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