LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A major coal producer is idling several eastern Kentucky mines and laying off 525 full-time workers, blaming continued weak coal markets.
James River Coal of Richmond, Va., is laying off workers at mines in five eastern Kentucky counties: the McCoy Elkhorn complex in Pike and Floyd counties; the Bledsoe complex in Leslie and Harlan counties; and the Long Branch Surface mine in London.
The state's Appalachian region in eastern Kentucky has a long history of coal production, but in recent years weak demand, low natural gas prices and stricter federal regulations have hurt mine production.
The slowdown has forced companies to idle mines and lay off workers by the hundreds in eastern Kentucky. The region lost about 4,000 mining jobs in 2012, according to data compiled by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.
James River said in a statement the restart of the mines is subject to market conditions.
Republican and Democrat candidates for Kentucky's U.S. Senate race seized on news of the layoffs Tuesday, saying they are the result of regulatory overreach by the Obama administration.
"The President is leading a war on coal and what that really means for Kentucky families is a war on jobs," Republican Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, said in a written statement. McConnell said President Obama's jobs proposals are not helping workers in the eastern Kentucky region.
Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky Secretary of State who is running for the Democratic nomination in the Senate race, said the president needs to develop an environmental policy "that does not threaten Kentuckians' livelihoods."