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Wyoming Coal Mine Sheds Jobs Ahead of Conversion to Natural Gas

Most are heavy equipment operators, mechanics and other mine staff.

Steam rises from the huge boiler units at the coal-fired Jim Bridger Power Plant on Nov. 29, 2006, east of Rock Springs, Wyo. A Wyoming coal mine that supplies fuel to the nearby power plant that will be converted to burn gas instead of coal will lay off 19 workers. They're the latest of thousands of jobs lost in recent years in the beleaguered U.S. coal industry. Black Butte Mine Manager Steve Gili said Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, no further layoffs are planned after the layoffs in mid-December.
Steam rises from the huge boiler units at the coal-fired Jim Bridger Power Plant on Nov. 29, 2006, east of Rock Springs, Wyo. A Wyoming coal mine that supplies fuel to the nearby power plant that will be converted to burn gas instead of coal will lay off 19 workers. They're the latest of thousands of jobs lost in recent years in the beleaguered U.S. coal industry. Black Butte Mine Manager Steve Gili said Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, no further layoffs are planned after the layoffs in mid-December.
Jeff Gearino/The Casper Star-Tribune via AP, File

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A Wyoming coal mine that supplies fuel to a power plant that will be converted to burn gas plans to lay off 19 workers next month, the latest of thousands of jobs lost in the beleaguered U.S. coal industry in recent years.

Fifteen workers at the Black Butte Mine were told Monday and four more Wednesday they would lose their jobs in mid-December, mine manager Steve Gili said Wednesday.

Most are heavy equipment operators but some are mechanics and other mine staff. No additional layoffs are planned at the mine where the workforce will shrink from 132 to 113, said Gili, who declined to comment further.

While northeastern Wyoming is home to eight of the 10 most productive U.S. coal mines, Black Butte in the southwestern part of the state is a smaller operation. The mine east of Rock Springs in the sparsely populated Red Desert produces 2.5 million tons (2.3 million metric tons) of coal a year primarily to feed PacifiCorp's nearby Jim Bridger power plant.

That's less coal than the northeastern Wyoming mines produce in a week. Still, the announced layoffs drew the ire of state officials who blamed President Joe Biden's administration for not facilitating the mine's expansion.

“It is disheartening and disappointing to have the Black Butte Mine lay off employees at any time but this is particularly troubling as we enter the holiday season," Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, said in a statement.

The power plant could continue to burn coal under plans to expand carbon capture and sequestration in Wyoming, Gordon added.

Nationwide, coal has been in decline as utilities have installed more renewable energy and converted coal-fired plants to be fueled by cheaper and cleaner-burning gas. At the Jim Bridger power plant, Portland, Oregon-based PacifiCorp plans to convert two generators to gas next year followed the remaining two in 2030.

Such trends have sapped U.S. coal demand and production has fallen from 1.3 billion tons (1.2 billion metric tons) a decade ago to 870 million tons (780 million metric tons) in 2022, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

U.S. coal mining employment has shrunk by half over that period to about 40,000 workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Despite the slump, West Virginia added 1,500 coal mining jobs in 2022 and employed by far more miners than any other U.S. state at 13,000, which is 30% of the total U.S. coal-mining employment, according to the Energy Information Administration.

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