Perry County community to feel impact of coal layoffs

By: Morgan Lentes Email
By: Morgan Lentes Email
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PERRY COUNTY, Ky. (WYMT) Update, 11/7/13, 7:00pm

HAZARD, Ky (WYMT) - More than 200 miners are off the job tonight and unsure when or even if they will return to work.

James River Coal Company's announcement Wednesday was another hit to an already struggling coal industry in eastern Kentucky.

Now community members are concerned about what impact the furloughs will have on their lives.

At one point, 90 percent of MD Electrical's business came from the mines.

Lee Kersey owns the business and said over the last year he has had to make adjustments to the way he operates in order to keep up with the changing economy.

"I was geared 100 percent for mining and then, like I said, I kind of gradually put it all together. So we are still making it, but it is not like it was and I think a lot of people will say that," said Kersey.

But with news that James River Coal Company idled production at its Buckeye Complex, Kersey admits he is worried for the future.

"The houses are not being built, you know. I said I do tools, so people are not going to buy tools like they used to ,you know, because what are you going to buy tools or feed your family," said Kersey.

While the parking lot at MD Electrical is still pretty busy, the owner said that does not mean they are not affected by these coal layoffs.

He added they are getting more walk-ins buying cheaper items as opposed to people from the coal industry buying more expensive products.

"When they do that, I will have to lower what I spend or lay off here, which I hate to do. But that is, you know, what you have to do," said Kersey.

This is not the first hit to the coal industry and no layoff impacts just one person.

Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett said for every coal job lost, our area loses 3 more.

"While we hate to hear news like this, at least there is a small ray of sunshine in there that hopefully these folks can go back to work in the near future, if we can find a market for the coal," said Bissett.

But if the layoffs turn permanent, locals like Haven King fear eastern Kentucky will lose an important part of its heritage.

"You have got generations that worked in this. I been in the coal mining part since 1969. My dad was a coal miner. My grandfather was a coal miner. It is tough for this area," said King.

In a statement, James River indicated they hope to bring the workers back in 2014.

We reached out repeatedly to James River Coal Company and were directed to their corporate office.

Our phone calls requesting comment were not returned.

Update, 11/6/13, 11:00 p.m.

More than 200 coal miners were laid off Wednesday in Perry County.

Perry County Judge Executive Denny Ray Noble confirmed to WYMT the layoffs at James River Coal took place at the Buckeye and Montgomery Creek jobs.

"It's so sad and so unnecessary,' said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky.

WYMT obtained a copy of a letter from James River Coal officials to laid off employees stating "the anticipated return to work date is unknown at this time."

"Coal is going to be a vital part of this region for years and years to come," Gov. Steve Beshear, D-Ky., said. "But with the economy the way it is, the regulation the way it is, we're probably never going to employ the number of people we have in the past."

Beshear said the Environmental Protection Agency's new regulations on power plants - intended to help the environment - are hurting the coal industry.

It's a concern he shared with EPA officials.

"The current EPA administrator said that she would sit down with us on this rule coming out about existing power plants," Beshear said. "And look at taking an different approach than they took on the rule on new power plants. So the proof will be in the pudding."

EPA officials are holding public listening sessions regarding the regulations, but Rogers is upset none of them are in Kentucky.

"They're taking those hearings to guess where? San Francisco, Boston, Chicago," Rogers said. "They don't even know what a lump of coal looks like."

Rogers and six other members of Kentucky's congressional delegation this week sent a letter to EPA officials asking them to hold a public comment session in Kentucky.

James River Coal company officials declined comment on the layoffs as they are still notifying employees of the furloughs.

Original Story, 11/6/13, 4:00 p.m.

More coal mining layoffs have made their way to Eastern Kentucky.

Perry County Judge Executive Denny Ray Noble has confirmed that James River Coal Company has laid off more than 200 miners in Perry County.

The exact number of people impacted is still not known. But an official with the James River Coal Company said that information will be available on Thursday.

WYMT obtained a copy of a letter sent to employees from James River Coal that reads, "after evaluating the demand and projected market for our coal, James River Coal Service must idle its production on Buckeye and Montgomery Creek jobs".

It goes on to say, "the anticipated return to work date is unknown at this time."

Stay tuned to WYMT for the latest.

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