Arch Coal Inc. announced plans Monday night to shut down its huge Dal-Tex mountaintop removal mining complex because of a federal court injunction that halted new permits for the mine.
In a prepared statement from its St. Louis offices, Arch Coal said most of the more than 300 miners at the operation would be laid off over the next five months.
"This is one of the most painful decisions I have ever had to make," said Steven F. Leer, president and CEO of Arch Coal.
"We repeatedly pointed out that the delay in granting these permits would lead to very negative results for Dal-Tex employees, their families, the citizens of Logan County and the surrounding area and the mine," Leer said.
"Unfortunately, the court's order leaves us no other option than to commence the shutdown of Dal-Tex."
Arch Coal subsidiary Hobet Mining Inc. wants to expand operations east across W.Va. 17 onto a 3,100-acre permit along Pigeonroost Branch near Blair, Logan County.
The company had already laid off 13 preparation plant employees in December because of permit delays. After the permit ruling last week by Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden, Hobet laid off another 30 workers over the weekend.
In Monday night's news release, Arch said that about 200 other United Mine Workers members at the surface mine and preparation plant would lose their jobs by mid-July.
In addition, the roughly 50 employees at Dal-Tex's Adkins Fork deep mine will likely lose their jobs in mid-July as well. Adkins Fork provides coal for blending with lower-cost surface mine production and is "simply not economic long-term as a stand-alone operation," the company said.
By early August, the only miners expected to remain at Dal-Tex will be about 50 personnel needed for mine reclamation, Arch Coal said.
"As a practical matter, Dal-Tex should have begun an orderly shutdown several months ago because we had mined out virtually all of the economically recoverable reserves from the existing permitted area," Leer said.
"However, we kept the equipment running, even while we were losing over $1 million per month, knowing that this permit met all of the detailed requirements of the federal and state regulatory agencies, and we had expected a favorable ruling," he said.
The Pigeonroost Branch permit, the largest in West Virginia history, was exempted from a new federal regulatory policy that forces mountaintop removal mines to undergo additional environmental scrutiny.
Federal regulators proposed the new policy to try to settle part of a broad lawsuit by the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and other environmentalists to try to curb mountaintop removal.