LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — James River Coal Co. is shutting down several of its eastern Kentucky mines and laying off 525 full-time employees, blaming continued weak coal markets.
The Richmond, Va.-based company, one of the top coal producers in the U.S., said the layoffs are at mines in five eastern Kentucky counties: the McCoy Elkhorn complex in Pike and Floyd counties; the Bledsoe complex in Leslie and Harlan counties; and the Long Branch Surface mine in London.
The state's Appalachian region in eastern Kentucky has a long history of coal production, but weak demand, low natural gas prices and stricter federal regulations have hurt mine production in recent years.
The slowdown has forced mining companies to idle mines and lay off workers by the hundreds in eastern Kentucky. The region lost about 4,000 mining jobs in 2012, according to data compiled by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.
James River said the restart of the mines is subject to market conditions.
Republican and Democrat candidates for Kentucky's U.S. Senate race seized on news of the layoffs Tuesday, saying they are the result of regulatory overreach by the Obama administration.
"The President is leading a war on coal and what that really means for Kentucky families is a war on jobs," Republican Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, said in a written statement. McConnell said President Obama's jobs proposals are not helping workers in the eastern Kentucky region.
Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky Secretary of State who is running for the Democratic nomination in the Senate race, said the president needs to develop an environmental policy "that does not threaten Kentuckians' livelihoods."
"I will not stand idle as overreaching regulation adversely impacts jobs and middle class families," Grimes said in a written statement.
An earnings report last month from James River said its coal sales revenue for operations in central Appalachia totaled $123 million for the quarter that ended on June 30, compared to $233 million for the same period in 2012. The central Appalachian region includes eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia.
James River Coal mines thermal coal for power generation and metallurgical coal used to produce steel. It also has operations in southern West Virginia and southern Indiana.
The company also idled several mines and reduced production at others in March.