Alpha Closing 8 Coal Mines, Eliminating 1,200 Jobs


Facing competition from cheap natural gas, coal producer Alpha Natural Resources said it's cutting production by 16 million tons and eliminating 1,200 jobs companywide. The cuts include 400 jobs with the immediate closing of eight mines in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

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And America's second largest coal company announced yesterday it will lay off 1,200 employees in the coming months. Alpha Natural Resources, started by immediately idling eight of its coal mines - including four in West Virginia.

And as Jessica Lilly of West Virginia Public Broadcasting reports, this could be just the beginning.

JESSICA LILLY, BYLINE: Alpha offered 270 of the 400 workers who got pinks slips yesterday, jobs at other locations. Alpha's Samantha Davison blames a mild winter, stricter regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, and increased competition for the cutbacks.

SAMANTHA DAVISON: The outlook for thermal coal in the U.S. has dramatically changed. A substantial number of electric utilities have switched from coal to cheap natural gas. And coal fired plants are either being closed or not being built because of the new regulations.

LILLY: Alpha is increasing its production of metallurgical coal, which is used in steel production. Demand for that coal is steady.

Ted Boettner, analyzed the impact on coal jobs. He's the executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. He says the state should expect more job losses.

TED BOETTNER: I think that it's important that if we see a storm coming that we prepare for it, even if it doesn't rain as hard as we think it's going to.

LILLY: In addition to competition from natural gas, Boettner says West Virginia coal production is declining as more coal seams are depleted. He says new regulations from the EPA are not the most relevant factor.

For NPR News, I'm Jessica Lilly in Athens.

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