Whitesburg KY

Alpha won’t lay off 750

About 750 Alpha Natural Resources workers at West Virginia coal mines will keep their jobs, despite mass layoff warnings this summer, the company announced this week.

An Alpha news release said operations will continue at the eight mines in Logan, Mingo, Boone and Raleigh counties.

In July, Alpha notified 1,100 West Virginia workers at 11 surface mines and related operations of anticipated layoffs. The mines produced about 75 percent thermal coal for power generation, and 25 percent metallurgical coal for steel production.

When announcing the possible layoffs this summer, Alpha cited weak domestic and international markets and federal regulations.

The warnings came the same week as public meetings nationwide for a federal proposal to curb carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. They spurred finger-pointing in an already testy election season, with Republicans blaming Democrats and President Barack Obama for the possible job losses. The election resulted in historic gains for Republicans in West Virginia and nationwide.

Many West Virginia Democrats vowed to fight the Environmental Protection Agency push, too.

On Monday, Alpha officials said they could retain the operations due to cost-cutting measures and sales improvements in some areas.

Officials also warned of a more volatile coal market.

“The market is moving toward a spot market, away from longer- term agreements that coal suppliers and customers have worked with in the past,” Alpha President Paul Vining said in a news release. “We’re certainly mindful of the low stockpiles some utilities have on hand and are trying to ensure we are ready to respond should demand increase.”

Though 1,100 workers were initially warned of possible layoffs, only 193 miners ended up losing their jobs when two mines were idled in September. Eight mines were still on watch for layoffs until Monday. One mine had its warning lifted in September.

Long-term plans for the mines will depend on market prices and demand, the Bristol, Virginia-based company said.

Unrelated to the July warnings, another 152 Alpha workers in West Virginia and 12 in Pike County, Kentucky were laid off in September and November.

Another 26 in Kentucky are staying on the job for an undetermined amount of time to remove equipment and close the mine.

Several factors contribute to Central Appalachian coal’s struggles. The industry has shed jobs amid low natural gas prices, dwindling coal seams, competition from other states and lousy coal markets.

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