In a press release on Monday, Arch Coal Inc. officials announced they were idling the Cumberland River Coal Company complex, located in Wise County, Va., and Letcher County, near the Harlan County line. Cumberland River comprises two underground operations and related facilities.
In total, 213 full-time positions were eliminated by idling Cumberland River, and in the press release the company said they are taking steps to provide opportunities at other Arch subsidiaries where available.
“With this move, we are actively responding to currently challenged metallurgical coal markets while striving to enhance our overall competitive cost position in Appalachia,” said John W. Eaves, Arch’s president and chief executive officer in a press release on Monday. “Our strategy is to increasingly shift our portfolio toward higher-margin, lower-cost metallurgical coal operations, while retaining our valuable reserves for when market conditions strengthen in the future. We will continue to serve our customers here and abroad with the high level of quality they have come to expect from Arch.
“We deeply regret the need to take this action. We thank the men and women at Cumberland River for their dedication, hard work and strong commitment to operating in a safe and responsible manner.”
In reaction to the mine layoffs by Arch Coal Inc., Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said this is “concerning news for eastern Kentucky.”
“Thus far in 2014, we’ve seen a little bit of a stabilization in the loss of coal jobs and production in eastern Kentucky. So, this news goes against this trend,” Bissett said. “We haven’t gained any jobs in eastern Kentucky as far as coal goes, but we haven’t lost any for the most part in eastern Kentucky. That said, I think it’s important to recognize this is an idling of a mine not a closure. So, there would be an opportunity to reopen this mine should market conditions change to a more friendly administration in Washington, D.C. I think you could see some changes in production in eastern Kentucky. But, at present our hearts go out to these miners who don’t have a livelihood anymore.”
Bissett said it’s important for everyone to remember that for every one coal mining job lost at least three other Kentuckians lose their livelihood.
“These numbers need to be in context, as we also have other people who are going to be out of work because of this layoff, in addition to loss of coal severance funds, coal severance taxes as well as other taxes this industry pays related to production and employment,” Bissett said. “Our hope is that the market will turn around. We’re aggressively working against President (Barack) Obama’s plan to move away from coal as an electricity source. It’s our hope that steam coal can still find a market both domestically and internationally, but that will take time. Our hope for these out-of-work miners, from this recent layoff, is that they might be able to find other opportunities either at home or near home, possibly through the HOME (Hiring Our Miners Everyday) Program.”
To contact representatives with the HOME program, out-of-work miners may call toll free 1-855-466-3690 or visit online at www.homeeky.com. They may also visit their Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/ekcep.
According to the press release, Eaves said Cumberland River Coal sold approximately 290,000 tons in the first half of 2014, consisting primarily of higher-cost metallurgical grade coal. The decision to idle operations at Cumberland River will reduce Arch’s annual 2014 metallurgical coal sales volumes by approximately 200,000 tons. As such, the company now expects to ship between 6.3 million and 6.9 million tons of metallurgical coal for 2014. Cumberland River Coal Company is a subsidiary of Arch Coal Inc.’s Catenary Coal Holdings Inc.
Nola Sizemore may be reached at 606-573-4510 or on Twitter @Nola_hde