About 40 percent of Alpha's production cuts will come from high-cost eastern mines "that are unlikely to be competitive for the foreseeable future," Crutchfield said, while about half will occur in the Powder River Basin, the largest coal-producing region in the U.S. The basin is located in northeast Wyoming.
Alpha's Wyoming operations, Alpha Coal West, consist of the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayre surface coal mines. Together, the mines have about 650 employees and produce about 50 million tons of coal a year, according to the Wyoming Mining Association. The number of layoffs that might occur there was unclear.
"We're still trying to figure out, with the reduction in production, what our operations will look like," said Mike Lepchitz, spokesman for the Belle Ayre Mine.
Crutchfield said "the elimination of jobs on this scale is something I take very seriously."
"Unfortunately," he said, "we think we have to do it to set the company on the right foot going forward."
In the long run, the new strategy will create a leaner, more agile company that can readily adapt to changing market circumstances, he said.
Politicians - mostly Republican - across the coalfields were quick to pounce on the announcement as further evidence that President Barack Obama's administration is waging a "war on coal" through new air-pollution standards, but many U.S. power companies have long planned to close or convert some of their aging, inefficient coal-fired plants.
"A group of government bureaucrats have decided the coal industry isn't something that they like, so they're going to try to force it out of business," said U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va. "This is appalling and it must stop."
In West Virginia, fellow Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito said her constituents want to stay in their home state and raise their families, "but the president's extreme policies are cripplingly entire towns and making it harder for workers to find jobs."
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said the number of mining jobs in West Virginia fell by about 1,300 in the second quarter as other coal companies laid off workers and idled operations or shifted resources.
Chris Hamilton, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said layoffs are likely to continue through the end of the year and into the first quarter as operators struggle with both regulations and the loss of traditional customers such as power plants.
"There's no sign of that easing up anytime soon," he said. "We're clearly on the valley floor here of the cyclic nature of the industry."