ALLEDONIA - Blaming the Obama administration's "war on coal," Murray Energy Corp. is cutting 29 union coal mining jobs at The Ohio Valley Coal Co.'s Powhatan No. 6 Mine.
"The failed energy policies of the Obama administration and the 'war on coal' that the president and his Democrat supporters have unleashed are the direct causes of this layoff," said Powhatan mine General Manager Ronald Koontz. "Unfortunately, for us, this is just the beginning the work force reductions."
The Friday move comes just a few months after Murray Corp. founder and chief executive officer Robert Murray told The Intelligencer that he may eventually be forced to close the union Powhatan mine - and replace it with an expansion at the nearby non-union American Energy Corp. Century Mine - for what he then termed "non-efficient work rules imposed by the United Mineworkers of America."
In addition to the two southern Belmont County mines, Murray also owns OhioAmerican Energy Inc.'s Red Bird West mine, near Brilliant.
"While we have very good employees at Ohio Valley, some of them are not. When we try to deal with them, the UMWA attempts to defend them, dragging the competitiveness of our good folks, who are the vast majority, down," Murray said earlier this year.
Friday, UMWA spokesman Phil Smith cited that a mild winter, low prices for natural gas and the "increasingly challenging regulatory atmosphere for coal are combining to make this a difficult year for coal miners."
"We understand, however, that productivity remains high at Powhatan No. 6 and the company is currently able to sell all the coal it can produce, which is a good sign. We sincerely hope that trend continues," Smith said. "Our office in Bellaire stands ready to assist these members during this time. We are disappointed by this layoff and are hopeful that these miners will be back to work at the Powhatan No. 6 mine as market conditions for the coal industry improve."
However, Murray and his management team are not optimistic that conditions are going to get better, as long as the Obama administration is in charge.
"Since his election, Mr. Obama and his appointees have waged a well chronicled 'war on coal,' seeking to destroy the coal industry and the jobs of our own employees and the livelihoods of their families," Koontz said.
"We are deeply disappointed and saddened that we had to take this action, but the excessive and unnecessary actions of the Obama administration have disrupted our mining operations and taken away much of the market for our coal," he continued. "In turn, this will drive up electricity costs for everyone and increase the cost of goods for American citizens."
Murray emphasized there will still be 680 people working at the Powhatan mine following this layoff. The corporation as a whole will still employ 3,398 throughout the nation.
Murray is not the only coal producer reducing its work force in the face of increased scrutiny from federal environmental regulators. Recently, Consol Energy - parent company of the Marshall County McElroy and Shoemaker mines - issued a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN notice, in connection with a plan to lay off 318 employees at its Fola Operations in Bickmore, W.Va., east of Charleston. The layoffs are expected to take effect Aug. 30.
Also in West Virginia, Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources recently announced plans to cut back their work forces throughout the Mountain State. All three companies blame the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for causing a downturn in coal demand, citing this as the reason for reducing their coal operation