WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) — Union officials said Thursday that nearly 600 coal miners could lose their jobs at Murray Energy Corp. mines in West Virginia and Ohio, dealing another blow to the beaten-down industry and Appalachian region.
According to the United Mine Workers of America, 532 of the planned layoffs would occur at five Murray mines in northern West Virginia. About 82 to 125 miners would lose jobs at each mine.
Fifty-four layoffs were planned for the mine in Powhatan Point, Ohio.
Murray did not immediately confirm the job losses. A statement by Murray spokesman Gary Broadbent discussed impending changes and so-called workforce adjustments, which typically means job losses.
Broadbent said changes are necessary amid current coal mining market conditions. The company laid the blame on President Barack Obama’s administration, the surging use of natural gas for electricity and West Virginia’s tax on unearthing coal.
Robert Murray, the company’s namesake, has been one of the most outspoken critics of Obama’s policies, including requirements to limit carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants.
The regulations are among many factors that have led to Appalachian coal’s downturn in recent years, ranging from low natural gas prices to competition from such states as Wyoming and Illinois, which have easier-to-reach coal seams.
According to company news releases, Murray has laid off more than 1,000 people from its West Virginia mines since April 2014. About 250 Murray miners have lost jobs in Ohio, while more than 320 have faced layoffs in Illinois.
Murray has used the job losses in West Virginia to rally for a cut to the state’s coal severance tax, even as the state hits a budget shortfall of about $250 million because of a drop in revenues from both coal and natural gas severance taxes.
Murray bought West Virginia’s five northern underground mines from CONSOL Energy in December 2013. The northern mines have remained more productive than those in the southern part of the state.