Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 11, 2013

Promise of jobs?

Are plans to hire 800 miners real or too good to be true?

The Independent

ASHLAND — In a region that has seen hundreds of coal mining jobs be eliminated in recent years with the closing of mines, having a company seeking applications to fill what it says could be more than 800 jobs at now idled mines in Kentucky and Virginia sounds almost too good to be true. And it may be. But we hope not.

Since announcing a few weeks ago that it was taking applications for mining jobs, Eddie Estep, president of Professional Contracting in Norton, Va., has hedged a bit on just how many jobs the company is seeking to fill and just where those jobs are.

Estep said Thursday the company already has placed about 50 miners in jobs and hopes to place hundreds more in the weeks and months ahead. However, he said, those applying for the positions must be patient.

Estep said his company has fielded about 3,000 applications over the past month. His company is working with a group of investors who will control the mines, he said. However, he declined to name the investors or give specifics about the locations of the mines. He said the investors own mines that are idled.

Estep still says he hopes to fill about 800 jobs at mines in the two states.

“It can be a little less, but it can be a lot more, too, depending on what the investors want to put into it,” he said. “There’s a lot of mines shut down. Reopening mines is the quicker way to put people to work but it takes time through federal laws and state laws to do it.”

Speculation about the jobs had focused on Alpha Natural Resources, which closed four mines in January, costing the region hundreds of jobs. However Alpha, based in Bristol, Va., told the Whitesburg Mountain Eagle that the company has no business arrangement with Professional Contracting.

Estep, who helps companies find labor and also trains miners, said news reports this week that the jobs don’t exist were untrue.

“I’m not playing games with this. If they want to stop the rumors, call me,” he said. “Eight-hundred people is not an overnight adventure. It takes time to process applications.”

If an operator wished to resume mining at an idled mine in Kentucky, they would have to notify the state Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement’s regional office, according to Dick Brown, a spokesman for the state Energy and Environment Cabinet. Brown said if a transfer of mine ownership were involved, the state’s Division of Mine Permits would have to approve applications but it likely wouldn’t happen until a purchase is finalized.

Mark Spicer, an out-of-work miner who lost his job as a greaser at a Martin County surface mine in January 2012, drove from Perry County to the Professional Contracting offices in Louisville on Monday to apply for one of the jobs. He said the building was full of applicants and he filled out paperwork, had his picture taken and was told to wait about two weeks.

“They told us when they would start viewing them, then they’d call us for interviews,” Spicer said. He said he wasn’t told what coal companies were interested in hiring.

Estep said he has worked with about 50 mining companies and has been in the coal mining industry for 35 years. He was listed as an instructor with the state of Virginia’s Board of Coal Mining Examiners on the state’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy website.

Is this all a ruse? We doubt it. We can’t see what any company has to gain from advertising to non-existent jobs.

We hope this is all on the up and up, and that investors are planning to reopen idled mines, creating hundreds of jobs. That would be a sure sign that the coal industry is being revived even as power plants are switching from coal to natural gas and other sources of energy. When miners are working, then so are truck drivers and railroad crews who haul the coal from the mines. When mines are closed both miners and truck drivers lose their jobs and the economy of the entire region is harmed.

The promise of 800 coal mining jobs sounds great. We just hope that promise is fulfilled. One thing is certain: There is no shortage of individuals in his region who are willing, able and eager to fill those mining jobs.