In the interim, the company will decide whether Hobet 21 “goes down altogether,” said Patriot spokeswoman Janine Orf. The mine produced 2.3 million tons of thermal coal in 2013 and about 1.46 million tons in the first half of 2014.

If it is shuttered, it will remove from service a mine that has been among the flashpoints for environmental groups fighting mountaintop removal jobs in West Virginia.

Patriot CEO Ben Hatfield blamed a familiar litany of reasons — ever-increasing federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, low natural gas prices and mild summer weather across much of the U.S. — for a decline in thermal coal prices.

“Over the next two months, Corridor G management will further evaluate operations and staffing to assess their ability to produce coal at lower costs and determine the extent of actions to be taken,” Hatfield added.
Patriot’s announcement continued a dismaying trend of coal mine closings and cutbacks across Central Appalachia, triggering a reaction from politicians.

“We recognize market trends can play a part in these potential closures,” said West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. “However, these trends also reflect the regulatory environment in which industry must operate.” Tomblin, a Democrat, urged the EPA to reconsider carbon dioxide rules the agency proposed earlier this year “and realize the real impact their proposed CO2 rules would have on West Virginia miners, their families and our communities.”

As the national economy grows and more manufacturers expand operations, “the use of electricity will rise as well,” Tomblin said, “and West Virginia coal remains the most cost-effective, reliable source of that power.”

Patriot, which emerged from federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization last December, has 16 active mines and 10 mining complexes in Appalachia and the Illinois Basin, according to Orf. The company produced 17.7 million tons of thermal and metallurgical coal last year and controls an estimated 1.8 billion tons of proven and probable thermal and met coal.

The company ships to domestic and international electricity generators, industrial users and met coal customers.