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Coal Company Files For Bankruptcy

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The jobs of more than a thousand coal miners are at risk after one of the nation's largest coal producers declared bankruptcy on Monday. Revelation Energy and its subsidiary Blackjewel employ workers from Appalachia to Wyoming, and many of them were told to stay home this week. In Kentucky, Harlan County Judge Executive Dan Mosley says some 200 miners were caught off guard, and days later, there's still a lot of confusion there.

DAN MOSLEY: They have kind of not been told a lot. Some are under the impression that they've been laid off. Some are under the impression that they're going back to work in just a couple of days. There's a lot of people, I think, that really don't know what's going on.

MARTIN: In Gillette, Wyo., two mines closed following the announcement. Miner Rory Wallett says the community is shaken, but people are stepping up.

RORY WALLETT: Everything from local businesses doing discounts, donating money, donating services, local individuals donating everything from money, to child care help, to resume help, the community is absolutely amazing.

MARTIN: Wallett says they can't do much now but just wait.

William Wright is a reporter with the Lexington Herald-Leader who's been covering this story, and he joins us on Skype from Pikeville, Ky. Thanks for being here, William.

WILLIAM WRIGHT: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Why did Revelation Energy have to declare bankruptcy?

WRIGHT: Well, they say that the competition from natural gas was a major factor, and other market declines in demand for coal also contributed. That's what you have seen from a number of other studies, you know, showing why coal has declined nationally and, in particular, in central Appalachia, is - cheap demand from natural gas is the main factor.

MARTIN: And it sounds from that tape we just heard that there's a lot of confusion, though, among employees. You've been having conversations with people. How many people are affected, and what are they telling you?

WRIGHT: Sure. My colleague and I have spoken with some miners, and they're saying basically what you heard from Judge Mosley - was that there is a lot of confusion about when these mines or if these mines are going to reopen. And in a - you know, a community like Harlan County, 200 jobs is a lot, and these mines support a number of other small businesses. And so, you know, there's just a lot of confusion about, when are we going to get back to work, and should we start looking for other employment?

MARTIN: Have you heard from local officials?

WRIGHT: We heard from a mayor of the town of Cumberland, Ky. And he said that, you know, basically, what you've already heard, that folks are concerned. And he said it would be devastating for their community if these mines were to be shut down. Cumberland is a small town in Harlan County.

MARTIN: I mean, so how does this closure jibe with what we have heard from President Trump for years now, that he has promised to bring coal back? Which he has - to a very small degree, though. The overall trend is going the other way. Is it not?

WRIGHT: Sure. Yeah. I think that, you know, what you've heard from President Trump is that, you know, we're going to bring back coal. And these bankruptcies show that competition from natural gas is a tough thing to beat, regardless of your changing regulatory policies. And so, yeah. It will be a tough thing to do, regardless of regulatory policy.

MARTIN: And meanwhile, all these employees just wait. William Wright, reporter at the Lexington Herald-Leader, thanks so much.

WRIGHT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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