GILLETTE (AP) — About 465 coal mine workers are being laid off from the two largest mines in northeast Wyoming as declining prices and demand for coal force mining companies to scale back their operations.
Peabody Energy announced Thursday it was laying off about 235 employees at its North Antelope Rochelle mine, and Arch Coal said it was reducing 230 positions at its Black Thunder mine.
Both mines are in the coal-rich Powder River Basin in Campbell County, and each employs more than 1,000 workers. Together, they produce about 200 million tons of coal a year.
The layoffs represent about 15 percent of the workforces at the mines.
Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King called the layoffs “devastating to those families and the community.” But she said she’s confident residents will show “that they’re ‘Gillette strong’ through all of this.”
“The community will come together on this, and we’ll come out of this. But it’s still a very difficult time,” Carter-King told the Gillette News Record. “That’s what we’ve done for decades, and we’ll continue. With the news today, plus the layoffs that have happened in the oil and gas industry, it does pile up.”
The downturn in the energy industry also has prompted layoffs among oil and natural gas operators in Wyoming.
Arch Coal has made efforts to reduce mining costs and improve efficiencies, but the slack market led to additional cost-cutting measures, Arch spokeswoman Logan Bonacorsi told the Casper Star-Tribune.
State agencies including the Wyoming Business Council and Wyoming Department of Workforce Services will be doing all they can to aid the affected communities, Gov. Matt Mead said.
“When we have a natural disaster in this state, we put together the appropriate team to respond to it. This isn’t a natural disaster, but it’s certainly a disaster in terms of the personal lives of those miners and beyond that what it’s going to do in terms of those communities and the businesses that it will affect,” Mead said at a news conference.
He pledged to continue pushing state-funded research into finding uses for coal that don’t emit as much greenhouse gas. “We didn’t move from the candle to the light bulb because of regulations. You got there because of innovation,” Mead said.
Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, issued a statement lamenting the loss of jobs and noting the Obama administration’s “economic assault on Wyoming.”
“I work every day to try to save jobs,” said Enzi, who is from Gillette. “It’s a tremendous challenge with this president who doesn’t understand the importance of these energy jobs, the massive number of other jobs that also depend on energy jobs or the effect the price of all carbon based fuels have on the economy.”