Eastern Kentucky faces another major layoff in the coal industry this week.
James River Coal Company announced Monday it has furloughed approximately 525 full time coal workers and is idling production at three operations in eastern Kentucky.
This is the second major layoff by the company in six months.
According to a new release from the company, the operations involved are the McCoy Elkhorn mines and prep plant in Pike and Floyd Counties, the Bledsoe mines and prep plants in Leslie and Harlan Counties and the Long Branch Surface mine in London, Ky.
The company says the layoffs are due to weak domestic and international coal markets. At this time they do not have a date when operations could be restarted.
Employees will reportedly keep their benefits for up to three months.
Kentucky legislators responded quickly to the news.
In a statement released Tuesday, U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Last night, President Obama said that his Administration’s proposals are helping strengthen the economy, but try and tell that to the people of eastern Kentucky.
“People in coal country awoke to more devastating news related to the President’s War on Coal. Over 500 Kentuckians are now wondering how they’re going to feed their family and pay their bills, as a result of another shut down at Kentucky coal mines.
“The President is leading a war on coal and what that really means for Kentucky families is a war on jobs. I will continue to fight to defend our coal miners and in the days to come continue my efforts in Washington to help put a stop to Obama’s War on Coal.”
Senator Rand Paul agreed, saying, “President Obama and his Administration have declared a war on coal, and thus declared a war on Kentucky jobs and our economy. In the past few years, thousands of Kentucky coal miners have lost their jobs at the hands of an overzealous EPA. Now, another 525 Kentucky families are facing the same devastating news.
“Kentuckians are deeply frustrated and they have a right to be,” Sen. Paul continued. “Coal miners are worried about providing for their families, while all families are worried about a future devoid of abundant, affordable and reliable energy.
“I will continue to fight for Kentucky’s coal industry and for the jobs and livelihoods it provides. If President Obama attempts to kill coal jobs with new regulations, I will organize resistance in the Senate through the Congressional Review Act to stop him.”
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers was equally upset by the plight of his constituents.
“There is no other way to say it; in two years, President Obama’s “War on Coal” has resulted in 6,200 jobless Americans in the eastern Kentucky coal fields and untold thousands more in mining support businesses.
“It is a downright dire and disastrous situation in our coal counties, yet the President is taking credit for a recovery! Deliberate anti-coal energy policies are sending thousands of families in my region to the unemployment line. I’ve talked to out of work miners struggling to put food on the table, find replacement work, and pay their bills.
“The EPA’s regulatory overreach that has bypassed the Congress and been soundly rejected by the courts, now seeks to end new coal generation while closing down existing plants. Mr. President, it’s time to stop this war on coal. Coal keeps the lights on!”
Bill Bissett, President of the Kentucky Coal Association reacted to the news of more layoffs in the coal fields.
“It’s important for people to remember for everyone one direct job lost we lose at least three other jobs that are dependent on that coal miner for their livelihood, so this is a very very serious economic time for Eastern Kentucky. There’s really nowhere else in the country that has felt the kind of loss in production and employment like we’ve seen in Eastern Kentucky,” said Bissett.
Back in March, James River Coal announced it was closing mines and reducing coal production by 3 million tons at operations in Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana.
The company idled five underground mines ( Abner Branch, Mine 16, Mine 6A, Mine 31,and Jellico), two preparation plants (BL1 Plant and Burke, and one load-out facility (Sunny Knot). It also has reduced production at three surface mines (Frasure, Buckeye, and Montgomery Creek).
The moves impacted about 400 employees and contractors.
James River mines thermal coal used for power plants and metallurgical coal used to make steel.