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Mass layoffs hit Western mines

CASPER, Wyo.

Three hundred miners and other workers are losing their jobs as the struggling western U.S. coal industry contends with diminished electricity use during the coronavirus pandemic.

Seventy-three workers at the Spring Creek mine in southeastern Montana and 57 at the Antelope mine in northeastern Wyoming are losing their jobs, Navajo Transitional Energy Company said.

St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, meanwhile, announced it was laying off 170 at Wyoming’s largest coal mine, North Antelope Rochelle.

Both companies cited economic conditions and declining coal demand, the Casper Star-Tribune reports.

“We know this announcement comes at a time when many are already challenged with circumstances surrounding the current national emergency, and we very much regret the added impact this difficult decision has on employees, their families and our nearby communities in northeast Wyoming,” Kemal Williamson, Peabody Energy’s president of U.S. operations, said in a statement.

NTEC, a Navajo Nation company, acquired the Spring Creek and Antelope mines from Gillette-based Cloud Peak Energy in a 2019 bankruptcy sale.

“We regret the hardship that this decision creates for families and our communities,” NTEC CEO Clark Moseley said in a statement. “We are confident in our projections for future sales and all mines will continue operations to fulfill orders as we look to better days ahead.”

All three mines are located in the Powder River Basin, which accounts for about 40% of U.S. coal production. Coal demand has declined over the past decade due to competition from natural gas-fired power and renewable energy sources.

School and business shutdowns and stay-at-home orders to contain the coronavirus have reduced electricity use over the past month, further dimming the outlook for coal-fired electricity and coal mining.

Peabody earlier this month laid off three employees at North Antelope Rochelle and 10 temporary workers at its Rawhide and Caballo mines elsewhere in the basin. The company laid off 50 temporary workers at North Antelope Rochelle in March.

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