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Alpha announces coal job layoffs
Alpha Coal Natural Resources mines tens of millions of coal a year at its Eagle Butte (pictured) and Belle Ayr mines in Wyoming. Photo by Don Warfield

Alpha announces coal job layoffs

Sep 19, 2012 - The Associated Press

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Coal producer Alpha Natural Resources said Tuesday that it was cutting production by 16 million tons and eliminating 1,200 jobs companywide, laying off 400 workers immediately by closing mines in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

About 40 percent of Alpha's production cuts will come from high-cost eastern mines "that are unlikely to be competitive for the foreseeable future," Crutchfield said, while about half will occur in the Powder River Basin, the largest coal-producing region in the U.S. The basin is located in northeast Wyoming.

Alpha's Wyoming operations, Alpha Coal West, consist of the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr surface coal mines. Together, the mines have about 650 employees and produce about 50 million tons of coal a year, according to the Wyoming Mining Association. The number of layoffs that might occur there was unclear.

The mine shutdowns start Tuesday, while the rest of the layoffs will be completed by the end of the first quarter after Alpha fulfills current sales obligations, Chief Executive Officer Kevin Crutchfield said. In all, the layoffs amount to nearly a tenth of Alpha's 13,000-person workforce.

Alpha said it was closing four mines in West Virginia, three in Virginia and one in Pennsylvania. They are a mix of deep and surface mines, and all are non-union operations.

Company spokesman Ted Pile said most of the displaced workers may eventually be rehired, either assigned to new jobs in other locations or replacing outside contractors. Only 150 workers in West Virginia and three in Pennsylvania will not have any other employment opportunities with the company, he said.

Though some miners will stay on to seal the operations, most will either be reassigned or laid off immediately.

Support positions will also be cut proportionally as Alpha reduces its operating regions from four to two, Crutchfield said, and two executives will retire Nov. 1.

It wasn't immediately what other states would be affected by the still looming layoffs.

Crutchfield said the shutdowns and layoffs are a necessary part of ensuring Alpha survives in what has become a difficult U.S. market, where coal companies face a dual challenge: Power plants are shifting to cheap, abundant natural gas, while companies like his face "a regulatory environment that's aggressively aimed at constraining the use of coal."

The affected West Virginia operations are the Alloy deep mine near Powellton, the Alloy surface mine near Boomer, the Premium highwall mine near Gilbert and the White Flame Surface Mine near Wharncliffe. The Virginia mines are Guest Mountain deep mines No. 8 and No. 9 near Norton, and the Twin Star Surface Mine near Hurley.

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