Coal producer Alpha Natural Resources recently announced plans to close the Emerald Mine in Greene County by 2015, eliciting a wave of shock and dismay from 500 workers who will lose their jobs.
An Alpha spokesman said the shutdown was partly due to slumping demand for electricity, which has yet to mirror pre-recession levels. That makes it difficult for the company to find markets in which to sell coal. Even as the economy churns into recovery, sales of coal are expected to remain sluggish.
Other factors in the closing include Environmental Protection Agency curbs on carbon emissions that will curtail coal consumption and production, and unprecedented levels of shale drilling in the region that have transformed natural gas into a cheaper and cleaner source of power.
We understand the closure of Emerald Mine, yet we are also sympathetic to the plight of the workers and their families who, by the end of next year, will face the harrowing hardships of unemployment.
While county officials say they will provide job training to the affected miners, Alpha Natural Resources estimates that it will be able to hire about a fifth of the discharged workers for work at its Cumberland Mine south of Waynesburg. Others have suggested that the miners be prepared to consider opportunities in Pennsylvania’s growing gas industry, where some of their skills might be transferable.
It may be difficult for some who have made a living from coal to jump to a competitor such as gas. But Americans continue to thirst for energy, and Western Pennsylvanians who are willing to fill the need are bound to find greater prospects for work.