BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — By any measurement, the Central Appalachian Region coal industry suffered its lumps in 2014. With an unsympathetic administration in Washington that has effectively shaken confidence in an industry that has a long history of resilience through up and down cycles, the future doesn’t look bright. Add to that a receding global economy that isn’t showing any signs of immediate improvement, and you have all the ingredient for a dramatic change.
“It is probably true that we’re heading into new territory,” Rick Taylor, president of the Pocahontas Coal Association said. The Pocahontas Coal Association is made up of several small coal operators, as well as suppliers and support service providers in the southern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia coal fields. While the association remains solid, Taylor said that the present cycle is different from anything he has seen in the past.
“We’re down partly because of regulations concerning emissions from steam coal, but here locally, the markets for domestic and export metallurgical coal have dried up. We’ve had our ups and downs before, but this is somehow different.”
The industry reflected that change throughout the year. On June 26, Cliffs Natural Resources announced that it had issued WARN (Worker Adjustment & Retraining Act) notices to its workers at the Pinnacle Mine in Wyoming County. At the time, Cliffs stated that, “the persistent depressed pricing and oversupply in the metallurgical coal market for the past year has put pressures on the business.”
Fortunately, the Pinnacle Mine survived the June WARN notice and is still mining coal, but other operations in the area haven’t been so fortunate. On Nov. 10, the last 36 coal miners working at Alpha Natural Resources’ Brooks Run South Mining operations in Cucumber were notified that the mine would be permanently idled…