Coal miner says employees at Wise County mine had no warning of layoffs

WISE COUNTY, Va. - Hundreds of people are without a job now that two coal mines are shutting down.
Cumberland River Coal Company, a subsidiary of Arch Coal, has decided to stop production at underground mines in Wise County, Va. and Letcher County, Ky.

Several sources told us at least two hundred employees will be laid off.  Eighty-three people work at the Wise County mine, according to the website of the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.

We went to Wise County on Monday and followed miner Derrick Saylor as he made his last trip to the Pine Branch #1 mine.

"I'll just have to try and find another mining job or something else," said Saylor.

Saylor has spent a decade mining there and has a wife and child he has to support. He told us the miners had no warning of the layoffs. Saylor said the whole community will take a hit.

"In the mountains, we're tight knit," said Saylor. "The people we work with, they're just like family."

We looked back at our news archives and discovered almost 900 coal jobs have been lost in Virginia and Kentucky since February 2013.

Saylor told us he thinks the Pine Branch #1 mine closed for three different reasons, the rising cost of mining, stricter EPA regulations on coal fired power plants and the cheap price of natural gas.

Arch Coal released a statement Monday afternoon.

"With this move, we are actively responding to currently challenged metallurgical coal markets while striving to enhance our overall competitive cost position in Appalachia," said John W. Eaves, Arch's president and chief executive officer in a statement. "Our strategy is to increasingly shift our portfolio toward higher-margin, lower-cost metallurgical coal operations, while retaining our valuable reserves for when market conditions strengthen in the future. We will continue to serve our customers here and abroad with the high level of quality they have come to expect from Arch."

According to the statement from Arch Coal, Cumberland River sold approximately 290,000 tons in the first half of 2014, consisting primarily of higher-cost metallurgical grade coal. The decision to idle operations at Cumberland River will reduce Arch's annual 2014 metallurgical coal sales volumes by approximately 200,000 tons. As such, the company now expects to ship between 6.3 million and 6.9 million tons of metallurgical coal for 2014. Arch plans to provide an update regarding its full year 2014 expectations in its second quarter 2014 earnings release on July 29, 2014.

Saylor said the effects of mining layoffs are being seen county-wide.

"Everything is going down," he said. "Business is leaving, schools are not in the best of shape."

Saylor told us he'll support his family with the 60 days of severance pay and 90 days of insurance coverage he'll get but once that's stops, he's not sure what he'll do.

We reached out to Virginia Delegate Israel O'Quinn about the layoffs. He said he's disappointed by the mine closures and released a statement which read:

"It was disappointing to see another coal mine closed in Southwest Virginia. This Administration, along with the EPA, is inflicting incredible economic pain upon hard working people and they deserve elected officials who will support them, not try to take their jobs."

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