Southern Coal gets contract with AEP, recalls hundreds of miners

ROANOKE, Va. — Southern Coal is recalling several hundred laid-off miners in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia and plans to hire 650 new workers.

Roanoke, Va.-based Southern Coal announced Tuesday that it has entered into a multi-year contract to supply coal to American Electric Power. The contract will allow it to restart mines idled earlier this year and save 500 jobs.

Southern Coal is owned by the Justice Family, which includes Jim Justice, who also owns The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.

"We are so happy to be able to save the jobs, and hire the 650 new miners, especially at this time of the year. We hope this will make the holidays a little better for those affected," Jim Justice and his son, Jay Justice, said in the company's news release.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin hailed Tuesday's announcement as good news for the workers and their states' economies.

"Today's announcement is a victory for the hard-working men and women and their families in the coal counties of Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. The number of jobs saved and created by this multi-year agreement will benefit our region for generations to come," Beshear said.

Tomblin said the contract means 1,700 jobs for the region, and it will have a large impact on communities' continued economic growth.

Southern Coal also has operations in Alabama and Tennessee. The company said it expects to produce 9 million tons of coal in 2013.

Despite coal mining accounting for less than 1 percent of overall employment in Kentucky, the industry was at the forefront of campaign television ads recently because of a spate of layoffs blamed on federal environmental policies.

Stricter U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations in coming years have led some electricity providers, including Kentucky Utilities, to plan to shut down coal-fired plants in favor of building ones that use natural gas.

At the same time, natural gas prices have fallen because of new extraction procedures that have expanded production throughout the United States.