W.Va. lawmakers focus on coal downturn

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia officials are hopeful that coal mining layoffs have eased this year.

The state's unemployment benefits program counted more than 4,700 mine workers filing initial claims earlier this year.

But program acting Executive Director Russell Fry says mining-related filings dropped to 2,500 last month.

Fry says that suggests the rest have gone back to work elsewhere. But he also notes the drop could reflect such other factors are retirements. West Virginia is the nation's second-biggest coal producer.

A downturn blamed partly on cheap natural gas has triggered mine shutdowns and layoffs.

Fry was among several speakers called Monday by a House-Senate committee studying coal's future in the state.

State Division of Energy Director John Herholdt told lawmakers the state has more than a century's worth of coal to mine.

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