Some government leaders call it a devastating blow to one of the state's biggest industries. Hundreds of coal miners in eastern Kentucky are learning they'll soon lose their jobs. Arch Coal officials announced they'll be laying off nearly six hundred of their Kentucky workers.
With plans to shut down the entire operation in Kite, Kentucky, Arch Coal's job cuts dealt a particularly hard blow to Knott County. Judge Executive Randy Thompson worried about what kind of employment would be left for the 259 employees who will be out of work. "There may be some minimum wage jobs or part time jobs here and there," Thompson said, "but you really can't feed your family on the money that you make. Basically that's sort of a supplemental income."
"We will continue to see a decline in the demand for coal," University of Kentucky economist Ken Troske said, "and we may see a scaling back of coal operations all over the country." Troske says most companies in the coal industry recognize they're facing a changing regulatory environment. "We've seen an increase in the amount of regulation that's affecting them, and they're seeing increased competition from alternative sources."
While the layoffs focused on facilities in eastern Kentucky, the news quickly drew criticism from political leaders across the state. "In the mountains of Kentucky hundreds of people are losing their jobs," Senator Rand Paul said from Washington, "but very wealthy individuals are getting your taxpayer money to subsidize solar panels. It's not fair."
In Perry County, where 49 employees will lose their jobs with the closure of the Rowdy Gap mine, Judge Executive Denny Ray Noble said Arch Coal had few options. "They can't pay more out from what they're spending to mine coal, and then with the regulations they've got on them now they just can't operate."
Governor Steve Beshear also expressed his disappointment with the layoffs. In a release, the governor said, "As unfortunate as this news is, it cannot be said that it was wholly unexpected. Demand for coal is at a 20-year low, thanks to a rapidly shifting energy market and high inventory. Unpredictable federal regulation processes have also hindered legal mining efforts, and we will continue to fight the unfair regulatory changes that effectively delay or halt our mining projects."