By Fred Pace
MAN – As the war on coal continues, so does the loss of mining jobs.
On Tuesday, Patriot Coal announced it would idle some of its operations located near Man in Logan County. The operations expected to be idled include the Guyan surface mine and the Fanco preparation plant and rail loadout.
The company issued 60-day WARN notice on Sept. 10, 2013, which would result in the loss of 250 jobs, but said about 50 of those employees affected would be offered other positions at other Patriot mine sites.
The company plans to cut thermal coal production by about two million tons annually.
“This is an unfortunate but necessary step to align Patriot’s production with expected sales,” said Patriot President and CEO Bennett K. Hatfield said in a press release. “Despite the substantial progress being made in the Patriot reorganization, we still have to contend with the industry-wide challenge of coal prices that have fallen well below production costs at many Central Appalachian mines. Thermal coal markets are extremely weak due to low natural gas prices and costly regulatory changes that have reduced coal-fueled electricity generation capacity.”
Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, said Patriot’s announcement was disappointing, but not unexpected.
“The company had already announced its intention to close this complex in the near term, however the continued depression in the coal market led to this action being taken sooner,” Roberts said in a prepared statement. “There will be jobs available for some of our members at the Hobet mine in Boone County, others are eligible for retirement and will choose that route.”
Recently, The United States Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the Eighth Circuit today reversed a decision by federal Bankruptcy Judge Kathy Surratt-States that would have allowed Peabody Energy to stop paying health care benefits for some 3,100 retirees that it had assumed in the spinoff of Patriot Coal.
The strongly-worded decision by the three-Judge panel means that Peabody continues to hold responsibility for paying the health care benefits for this group of retirees, who are mostly in the Midwest.
“This is a bright ray of good news in what has been a long, dreary period for the retirees, their dependents and widows who have been desperately worried about what’s going to happen to their health care,” Roberts said.
“Peabody has spent years trying to get rid of its obligations to the thousands of retirees who made it the richest coal company in the world,” Roberts added. “This decision foils part of that plan. And it makes us even more determined to keep fighting to make sure the company lives up to its entire obligation to these miners.”