CONSOL Energy has issued notice under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) of a layoff at its Fola Operations near Bickmore, W.Va. It is expected that the layoffs will occur during February 2010. Approximately 104 workers at the Little Eagle Coal Co. and 378 at the Fola Coal Co. may be affected by the layoff.

CONSOL Energy attributed the idling at Fola Operations to the appeal of its approved permits to mine brought by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC). Subsequent to that appeal, Judge Robert C. Chambers, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, Huntington Division, recently issued an order suspending Fola Coal Clean Water Act Section 404 permit for the Ike Fork portions of Fola Operations effective January 23, 2009. Without this permit, neither Fola Coal nor Little Eagle Coal can satisfy the required specifications of its coal sales contracts.

“It’s unfortunate that, at a time when reliable and affordable energy is so desperately needed to reinvigorate our economy, that the nation’s energy industries are coming under repeated assault from nuisance lawsuits and appeals of environmental regulations,” said Nicholas J. DeIuliis, CONSOL Energy executive vice president and COO. “It is CONSOL Energy’s policy to operate our coal and gas assets safely and within the framework of the laws regulating our industry, but we oppose any efforts to use them to unnecessarily impede our ability to sustain our operations.

“To put it into human terms, we are talking about the jobs of nearly 500 of our employees at the Fola Operations, and the impact such legal interpretations will have on their quality of life and that of their families,” DeIuliis said, adding that for each job in coal mining, several additional support jobs are adversely affected.

In addition, DeIuliis said that the long-term economic viability of the Fola Operations remains uncertain due to adverse market conditions for the coal product mined there. “It’s challenging enough to operate our coal and gas assets in the current economic downturn without having to contend with a constant stream of activism in rehashing and reinterpreting permit applications that have already been approved or in the inequitable oversight of our operations,” DeIuliis said. “Customers will grow reluctant to deal with energy producers they perceive are unable to guarantee a reliable supply due to regulatory uncertainty. It inhibits the ability to remain competitive.”