The coal slump hit home with a vengeance last week. Arch Coal announced layoffs of 750 miners, 600 of them in Kentucky. The layoffs were at mines producing thermal coal. The East Kentucky complex in Pike and Martin Counties will be closed, as will the Knott County/Raven complex, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Smaller Arch mines are also closing. At least some of the closings won’t take effect till August 20; federal law requires companies to give 60-day notices to workers affected by large layoffs like this one.
In Virginia, the Coalfield Progress told of unconfirmed reports that A&G Coal will lay off 100 workers.
In Kentucky, Republican politicians blamed the layoffs on what they’re calling “Obama’s war on coal.” News reports, however, suggest the issue is economic rather than legal or environmental. Arch Coal’s announcement cited “the unprecedented downturn for coal-based electricity.” A spokesman for A&G Coal also cited declining demand for coal, saying it has some customers who are refusing to accept coal they’ve already purchased. This echoes earlier reports of utilities whose coal stockpiles are already full to overflowing, reflecting continued weak demand for electricity. Kentucky State Senator Brandon Smith of Hazard told the Herald-Leader he’s heard there may be 2200 layoffs by the end of summer, and he predicted brownouts because utilities won’t be able to make as much power as wanted. It will be interesting to see if that comes true. If it does it will mean the EPA—or somebody—has created an interruption in the supply of coal that would otherwise have been mined and sold. If it doesn’t—if there are no brownouts—it will indicate that coal has in fact been replaced by gas.
Coal Report 06-25-21A Letcher County miner has won a high-profile case under the law protecting whistleblowers who report unsafe conditions. The Mountain Eagle reports a federal judge ordered Charles Scott Howard reinstated to his job at Cumberland River Coal. He had been discharged in May 2011 from the Arch Coal subsidiary. The judge ruled that his dismissal was because of repeated complaints about unsafe conditions; federal law prohibits firing or retaliating against a worker who does this. The judge harshly criticized the company for working “at the highest management levels” to keep Howard from working. By court order Howard has been restored to his former job; Cumberland River Coal has also been fined $30,000 for its actions.
Kentucky governor Steve Beshear has signed into law a bill strengthening the prohibition against drug abuse by miners on the job, reports WYMT news. He also signed a bill making the fourth Monday in August Coal Truck Driver Appreciation Day.
The US Senate has rejected a measure that would have scrapped the new EPA rules on mercury emissions. In December EPA enacted rules—which were decades in the making—limiting the amount of mercury coal plants could put into the air. Mercury is a neurotoxin especially harmful to children and the unborn. Republicans led by Oklahoma Senator Inhofe introduced a bill that would have repealed those rules, but failed to pass. Unusually these days, it was not a strict party-line vote. Some Democrats from energy states, like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, voted for; some Republicans from the northeast (downwind from coal plants) voted against.
One notable “no” vote came from West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller. In a floor speech he called out the coal industry for running what he called a campaign of scare tactics instead of acknowledging the realities of the present. He said the industry had consistently refused to compromise on environmental issues and as a result had ended with nothing—a result which Rockefeller said did not serve coal miners well.