By May 23, 2015 Read More →

Dark Day for Miners

By CASEY JUNKINS

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. – More than 750 local coal miners lost their jobs Friday as Murray Energy Corp. either eliminated or laid off 1,829 workers across three states in response to what the firm calls “the ongoing destruction of the U.S. coal industry by President Barack Obama.”

When combined with the 439 job reductions made by Alpha Natural Resources in Wayne County, the Murray cuts mean West Virginia lost 1,857 coal-mining jobs Friday. And between the two coal giants, 2,268 workers in Ohio, Illinois and West Virginia are now in the unemployment line.

“Our members and their families are the ones who are hit the hardest, but make no mistake: If this layoff goes on for very long, it will devastate dozens of communities throughout northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio,” United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil E. Roberts said in reaction to the job cuts. “This is very bad news.”

Friday’s layoffs represent almost one-fourth of the total Murray work force of more than 7,500.

Murray officials confirmed a total of 359 union and management jobs at the Marshall County Mine – formerly known as the McElroy Mine while under Consol Energy’s ownership – “must be eliminated.” Company leaders said 794 workers will remain on the job at the Marshall County facility.

At the Ohio County Mine, previously known as the Shoemaker Mine, the company slashed 146 hourly and salaried positions, with 537 miners scheduled to remain on the job.

Unlike those at the West Virginia mines whose jobs are “eliminated,” affected workers at Murray’s Ohio mines are only “laid off,” according to the company.

At the American Energy Corp. Century Mine near Beallsville – where 425 miners were laid off earlier this month – there will be 108 additional layoffs. Murray spokesman Gary Broadbent said those who were part of the earlier furlough remain on the same schedule of when they will return to work. The company will continue employing 542 workers at Century Mine.

Murray’s Powhatan No. 6 Mine, operated by The Ohio Valley Coal Co., will reduce its work force by laying off 141, leaving 599 miners on the job Friday.

“We expect these changes to result in a 3-to-4 million ton reduction in coal production in 2015. These mines will run 5.5 days per week, rather than seven days per week,” Broadbent said.

“These mines sell their coal to utility companies, and there just isn’t as much coal being used to generate electricity as there was even six months ago,” Roberts added. “Competition from unusually cheap natural gas, mild weather and power plant closings due to a growing list of government regulations have combined to drastically slash coal use at this point in time.”

Across the Mountain State, a total of 1,857 miners lost their jobs Friday. Murray also eliminated 216 jobs from the Marion County Mine, along with another 108 at the Harrison County Mine. Moreover, a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) notice filed with WorkForce West Virginia Friday afternoon indicates Murray will lay off up to 589 miners from the Monongalia County Mine by July 24.

In addition to Murray, Alpha issued a WARN notice affecting 439 employees at the company’s Rockspring Development’s Camp Creek Underground Mine and Processing Plant in Wayne County, West Virginia.

“This is an unprecedented time in the coal industry and Alpha continues to take difficult but necessary actions to ensure that our production is aligned with the reduced market demand we see today and anticipate in the future,” Alpha Chairman and CEO Kevin Crutchfield said. “These actions are consistent with steps we have taken in the past to build a smaller but more sustainable portfolio of mining assets across our operational footprint.”

The remaining Murray job cuts came in southern Illinois, where the firm laid off 162 miners.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, along with Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., blasted the Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulations, which they believe are the main reason for the coal job losses. These new measures include both the federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and the carbon emission-cutting Clean Power Plan.

For its part, the EPA states the Clean Power Plan will cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels, reduce emissions that lead to soot and smog by over 25 percent in 2013, create at least $55 billion worth of “climate and health benefits” by 2030 and prevent about 140,000 asthma attacks in children by 2030.

However, West Virginia leaders did not seem to buy this Friday.

“For years, we have warned the EPA of the consequences of its irresponsible mandates. We will continue to oppose EPA policies that have devastating impacts on West Virginia miners, their families and our communities,” Tomblin said. “Additional layoffs and mine closures are heartbreaking for our miners, their families and the communities in which they live. These cutbacks affect more than just those directly employed – they affect suppliers, support services and retailers whose businesses depend on these companies and their employees.”

“Especially at a time when our economy is so fragile and good-paying jobs are hard to come by, our federal government must start working with us and not against us. There’s a balance to be found between the environment and the economy, and the EPA has worked very hard to avoid finding that balance,” Manchin said. “As senator, I will continue to work hard with members of both political parties to reverse the EPA decisions that are jeopardizing not only our coal industry, but our way of life.”

Just last week, Capito introduced the Affordable Reliable Energy Now Act, which she hopes will allow Congress to prevent some of the EPA policies from taking effect.

“The administration’s continued overreach has contributed to thousands of coal miners losing their jobs in West Virginia and our neighboring states, harming local economies and families. In West Virginia, the attack on coal mines also reduces revenues for education programs, roads and other public services,” she said.

“Dark Day for Miners” The Intelligencer 23 May 2015: A1

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