If you do not believe there is a war on coal and affordable electricity, ask the 1,100 employees of Alpha Natural Resources in West Virginia who were told last week they would likely be losing their jobs this fall. By most recent counts, there are approximately 20,000 coal mining jobs in West Virginia, paying an average of approximately $55,000 per year. These cuts by Alpha could eliminate 5.5 percent of those jobs – and paychecks.
Among the reasons cited by Alpha for the decision is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ramped-up regulatory assault on the industry. The company’s analysis showed EPA regulations are responsible for up to 360 coal-fired power plants shutting down completely or converting to natural gas. The agency’s newest emissions regulations are expected to eliminate more coal-fueled electricity in the coming year than in the previous three years.
Nearly one in every five existing coal-fired power plants is shutting down or converting, with our region becoming “the biggest loser from EPA’s actions,” according to one major financial news publication.
Alpha Natural Resources is a business. Its operations managers’ jobs are to examine the markets and regulatory environment in order to gather the best information to make money for the company. What they see in the U.S. regulatory environment tells them it is not worth their time and effort to try to make money in Central Appalachian coalfields.
“This country would not be where it is today without (coal miners),” said Alpha’s president, Paul Vining. “As difficult as these decisions have been, they’re essential for our organization in a business environment that’s undergone an enormous and fundamental transformation.”
Miners in Logan, Mingo, Boone, Raleigh, Kanawha and Fayette counties know who they can thank for a large portion of that transformation.