Murray's 'devastating' layoff spree

PRIVATE US coal producer Murray Energy plans to cut more than 1800 jobs across six sites as the downturn continues.

Blair Price

“Due to the vastly increased use of natural gas in the Ohio Valley area to generate electricity, the ongoing destruction of the United States coal industry by President Barack Obama, and the excessive coal severance tax in the state of West Virginia, workforce reductions and operational changes have been forced upon the company,” founder and CEO Robert Murray said in one of four company statements released on Friday.

The cutbacks included officially retrenching the 588 workers at the Monongalia County mine in northern West Virginia (which produced 4.6 million tonnes in 2014) which was idled on March 31.

Of the 1417 jobs cuts in WV, they will also affect Murray’s coal operations in the Harrison and Marion counties.

Murray will also eliminate another 249 jobs in Ohio and 162 in Illinois with the total jobs cuts reducing more than 20% of the company’s total workforce.

WV Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said the news was heartbreaking.

“These cutbacks affect more than just those directly employed – they affect suppliers, support services and retailers whose businesses depend on these companies and their employees,” he said on Friday.

He blamed overreaching regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency along with market forces.

“For years, we have warned the EPA of the consequences of its irresponsible mandates,” he said.

“We will continue to oppose EPA policies that have devastating impacts on West Virginia miners, their families and our communities.”

With the Wall Street Journal front-running the official statements from Murray last week, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) international president Cecil Roberts expressed concern.

“The fact that they had to read about these layoffs on the internet before they heard about it from their employer does a disservice to their dedication and commitment to being among the best coal miners in America,” he said.

"These mines sell their coal to utility companies, and there just isn't as much coal being used to generate electricity as there was even six months ago. Competition from unusually cheap natural gas, mild weather and power plant closings due to a growing list of government regulations have combined to drastically slash coal use at this point in time.”

He also warned that dozens of communities throughout northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio could be devastated if the layoff goes on for very long.