UPDATE: Coal company furloughs 525 miners across southeastern Kentucky

Furlough letter sent to WYMT from anonymous coal miner.

Officials with James River Coal Company have confirmed they have furloughed 525 coal miners at three mines across eastern and southeastern Kentucky.

Officials with the Richmond, Virginia based company said Monday night the furloughs include operations at the McCoy Elkhorn complex in Pike and Floyd counties, the Bledsoe complex in Leslie and Harlan counties, and the Long Branch Surface mine in London.

James River Coal Company runs several mines in Eastern Kentucky with the latest layoffs appearing to be centered around Pike, Harlan and Leslie Counties, potentially more than 500 jobs in Pike County alone.

At a time when the Eastern Kentucky coal industry has seen a steady decline in jobs, officials say losing that many jobs at these mines would devastate the area.

"It's important for people to remember for everyone one direct lob lost we lose at least three other jobs that are dependent on that coal miner for their livelihood, so this is a very very serious economic time for Eastern Kentucky. There's really nowhere else in the country that has felt the kind of loss in production and employment like we've seen in Eastern Kentucky," said Bill Bissett, President of the Kentucky Coal Association.

Bissett says there are many reasons for the industry's issues, including competitive prices of natural gas and extensive regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

As of right now, there is no word on specific numbers or if the layoffs will be permanent.

We did receive a copy of a letter that was given to a furloughed miner at a Bledsoe mine. The letter states that all the furloughed miners will keep their benefits for up to three months.

We've tried several times today to contact officials at James River Coal. Our calls were not returned.

U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers released the following statement Tuesday:

"There is no other way to say it; in two years, President Obama’s “War on Coal” has resulted in 6,200 jobless Americans in the eastern Kentucky coal fields and untold thousands more in mining support businesses. It is a downright dire and disastrous situation in our coal counties, yet the President is taking credit for a recovery! Deliberate anti-coal energy policies are sending thousands of families in my region to the unemployment line. I’ve talked to out of work miners struggling to put food on the table, find replacement work, and pay their bills. The EPA’s regulatory overreach that has bypassed the Congress and been soundly rejected by the courts, now seeks to end new coal generation while closing down existing plants. Mr. President, it’s time to stop this war on coal. Coal keeps the lights on!"

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell released the following statement, regarding the announcement:

"Last night, President Obama said that his Administration’s proposals are helping strengthen the economy, but try and tell that to the people of eastern Kentucky. People in coal country awoke to more devastating news related to the President’s War on Coal. Over 500 Kentuckians are now wondering how they’re going to feed their family and pay their bills, as a result of another shut down at Kentucky coal mines. The President is leading a war on coal and what that really means for Kentucky families is a war on jobs. I will continue to fight to defend our coal miners and in the days to come continue my efforts in Washington to help put a stop to Obama’s War on Coal."

You can find the release from the company about the furloughs here:

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