Thursday, July 07, 2016

Western coal mines have lost more than 1,600 jobs since 2012; laid-off workers have few options

Western coal mines are seeing greater layoffs. They have lost more than 1,600 jobs since 2012, including the announcement in March that Peabody Energy and Arch Coal were cutting 465 jobs in the Powder River Basin. "Historically low natural-gas prices mean that the fuel has been out-competing coal and stricter environmental regulations make it harder for coal companies to stay in business," Paige Blankenbuehler reports for High Country News. "And many companies have been hurt by questionable business decisions and high executive salaries and bonuses." (High Country News map: For an interactive version click here)
"In early June, 80 full-time employees received notice of their layoffs from the West Elk Mine in Somerset, one of Colorado’s largest energy producers," Blankenbuehler writes. "The mine is the last still in operation in the North Fork Valley on the state’s Western Slope, where coal mining has been a mainstay of the rural economy for nearly 120 years. Just five years ago, approximately 1,200 people in the North Fork Valley were employed by three local coal mines." Kathleen Welt, an environmental engineer at the West Elk Mine, said less than 250 people remain employed. One of the other miners shut down permanently and the other is idled.

"For coal miners out of work, Western states have done little to provide a safety net; so far there are no statewide programs that provide re-training, counseling or economic development strategies for extractive resource dependent economies," Blankenbuehler writes. "Some coal companies offer laid-off workers a severance package, but former miners have few options to gain positions that match their previous salaries—on average, more than $80,000 a year."

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