The head of Alpha Natural Resources, the largest coal producer in West Virginia, said the mine closures and layoffs the company announced last month probably won’t be the last this year.
Kevin Crutchfield, Alpha’s chief executive officer, also said he is concerned that the United States is following a regulatory path that will eventually turn the nation irrevocably away from coal and raise prices.
Alpha is the nation’s largest supplier of metallurgical coal, which is used in steel making, and the company is a major supplier of steam coal used by utilities to generate electricity.
Coal markets have weakened in recent months. Metallurgical coal demand has softened because of slower growth in China and India and ongoing financial uncertainty in Europe. Steam coal demand has softened because warm weather across much of the United States has reduced electricity generation.
On Feb. 3, Alpha announced that subsidiaries in Kentucky and West Virginia would idle four mines immediately and two others by early 2013, while several other mines altered work schedules or reduced the number of production crews.
Photo by Alan Johnston. Taken at old mining tipple in Caretta, West Virginia (McDowell County).
A few years ago, at a conference about the woes of rural America, one speaker really caught my attention with a very simple message. “Never say ‘rural brain drain,’” She told us. “Think about it.” She pointed out that to say “brain drain” in a rural community is basically telling everyone present — the people who stayed — that they’re dumb. You’re implying they somehow missed the boat and are demonstrating low IQ just by being rural.
Two million people left Appalachia between 1945 and 1970, and many others were trapped in newly purchased company houses, living on donated flour and beans after their unemployment ran out.
The 17 counties that make up Southeast Kansas have the highest unemployment rates of any region in the state. They also have the highest poverty rates of any region, as well as the lowest health numbers.
Each senator came up with at least 10 individuals to interview for their thoughts on the issues which kept economic growth stunted in this region, and overall roughly 50 interviews were conducted with the help of state staff.
Those results were compiled by state staff and condensed into a list of 10 “key issues” that faced the area, each of which encompassed a multitude of even more specific problems.
The 10 key issues were: