Coal Mining

West Elk Mine
WildEarth Guardians

The last fully operational coal mine in the western part of the state announced layoffs Thursday.

The West Elk Mine outside of Paonia is owned by Arch Coal. The company filed for bankruptcy in January and says it’s letting go of 80 workers.

All over eastern Kentucky, you see cars and pickup trucks with black license plates proclaiming the owner is a "friend of coal."

Even though the license plates are all over, it's getting harder to find actual coal miners here: Fewer than 6,000 remain in the state, where the coal industry is shrinking fast. More than 10,000 coal workers have been laid off since 2008.

Many have had to leave the area to find work, but a few have found employment in other — and sometime unexpected — fields, as businesses are innovating to use former coal workers in new ways.

coal miner, Paonia Town Park, mining
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

Thirty-five years ago this month, an explosion at the Dutch Creek No. 1 Mine outside of Redstone, Colo. killed 15 coal miners. Rob Mulford worked at the mine. He wasn't there that day, but the weight of the tragedy is still with him. Mulford now lives in Alaska, but he recently came back Colorado, to honor his friends and fellow miners who died. He joined KVNF's Laura Palmisano in the studio to talk about the tragedy and a book he's writing.

Rob Mulford, coal miner, Paonia Town Park
Laura Palmisano

Thirty-five years ago today, April 15, 1981, an explosion at the Dutch Creek No. 1 Mine outside of Redstone, Colo. killed 15 coal miners. Rob Mulford worked at the mine. He wasn't there that day, but the weight of the tragedy is still with him. Mulford now lives in Alaska, but he's back, to honor his friends and fellow miners who died. 

A coal-mining giant has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection amid an industrywide slump.

Peabody Energy — which is the biggest coal miner in the U.S. and says it is the largest private-sector coal company in the world — is looking to restructure its heavy debt load and gain relief from its creditors. It hopes to continue operations unimpeded.

Flickr user: oatsy40

Arch Coal announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Monday. The company operates the West Elk Mine outside of Paonia and is the second largest coal company in the U.S.   

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  • Colorado Rep. Don Coram talks about upcoming session
  • Colorado reconsiders self bonding for coal mines
  • Anti-fracking initiatives try to make it on the ballot

KVNF Regional Newscast: Thursday, Jan. 07, 2016

Jan 7, 2016

  • Construction underway to repair erosion in Montrose
  • Commissioners approve backyard chickens in unincorporated Mesa County  
  • With state water plan finalized, ball lands in lawmakers’ court
  • Rep. J. Paul Brown on the 2016 legislative session 
  • Colorado moves away from self-bonding

Arch Coal Considers Bankruptcy

Nov 20, 2015
Flickr user: oatsy40

Arch Coal recently said that it might file for bankruptcy. The St. Louis-based company operates the West Elk Mine near Somerset and is the second largest coal company in the U.S. KVNF's Laura Palmisano spoke to Robert Godby, an economics professor at the University of Wyoming, who tracks the coal industry, about the announcement.  

KVNF Regional Newscast: Thursday, Nov.. 12, 2015

Nov 12, 2015

  • 18-year-old woman missing from Montrose
  • Coal companies struggle
  • Lt. Gov. Garcia resigns, talks higher education

Coal In Decline

Nov 11, 2015

A conversation with Elizabeth Shogren of High Country News about bankruptcy and mine closures. 

KVNF Regional Newscast: Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015

Nov 5, 2015

  •  Colorado voters let state keep marijuana tax money
  • Western Slope communities say yes to broadband
  • Montrose County voters reject library mill levy
  • Regional election results
  • DOI says taxpayers shouldn't be "saddled" with coal cleanup costs

Economy, North Fork Valley, economic development
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

Two Colorado communities hard-hit by the downturn in the coal industry received federal grants last week to help diversify their economies.

The Obama administration awarded Region 10, an organization of six counties on the Western Slope, a $1.2 million grant. Moffat County also got $50,000.

KVNF Regional Newscast: Monday, Oct. 19, 2015

Oct 19, 2015

  • Colorado Health Insurance Co­op no longer able to sell insurance for next year
  • Federal grants help coal economies
  • Large grant helps private well owners get their water tested
  • More snow than average predicted for southern Colorado
  • KVNF Annual Meeting results

KVNF Regional Newscast: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015

Sep 30, 2015

  • Bowie announces further layoffs at mine near Paonia
  • City of Delta Police Chief resigns
  • Halliburton ordered to pay $18 Million in back wages
  • Lt. Governor, state officials promote literacy on Colorado tour

Bowie Announces Further Layoffs At Coal Mine Near Paonia

Sep 29, 2015

A coal mine near Paonia is laying off more workers.

Bowie Resource Partners announced on Tuesday that it's eliminating nearly 100 jobs at the Bowie #2 Mine.

KVNF Regional News: Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015

Sep 22, 2015

  • Lawsuit looks to stop expansion at Bowie #2 coal mine
  • Economy good, but slowing down
  • CDOT tries to tackle animal collisions
  • Judge rules cuts to school funding constitutional

KVNF Regional Newscast: Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015

Aug 26, 2015

  • Colorado IUD program for low-­income women gets funding
  • Rifle ranger shooters spark Grand County wildfire
  • Silverton, San Juan County want federal aid to deal mine spill
  • A look at school enrollment across the Western Slope
  • To mine or not to mine? Is that the question?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency made a mistake when it told electric power plants to reduce mercury emissions. The high court says the EPA should first have considered how much it would cost power plants to do that.

The decision comes too late for most power companies, but it could affect future EPA regulations.

Mercury in the air is a health risk. When you burn coal or oil, you create airborne mercury that can end up in fish we eat and cause serious health problems.

Judge Revokes Arch Coal Lease

Sep 16, 2014

A District Court Judge revoked a lease expansion granted to Arch Coal in 2012.  

Pam Morris via Flickr creative commons

Coal miners and their families filled the gym at the Paonia branch of the Delta Montrose Technical College on Saturday. Many of them were among the 300 people laid off by Oxbow’s Elk Creek Mine in Somerset last month. They were there to hear state Senator Gail Schwartz and others talk about how the state could help them deal with the job losses. Some ideas included rural economic development grants and financial aid for miners to go back to school. But many people left the meeting feeling just as lost as before. 


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  • Some Miners Near Ouray Helping with Accident Investigation
  • Future of Coal Uncertain as Tennessee Valley Authority Cuts Production
  • Three Colorado Cities Facing Lawsuits Over Fracking Bans
  • Historic Schoolhouse Spurred Modern Women's Club
KVNF File Photo

It’s been a rough season for the coal mines of the North Fork Valley. Last week, Oxbow’s Elk Creek Mine in Somerset laid off another 115 workers, bringing the total number of jobs cut at that mine this fall to over 250.

Ali Lightfoot/KVNF

For the past few months, KVNF’s Programming Director Ali Lightfoot has been helping local kids produce radio stories as a part of our youth reporting project, Pass the Mic.

The project is now in its second year and is a collaboration of KVNF and the North Fork Heart and Soul Project. The stories these kids produce tackle a number of contentious issues, one of them being the energy industry. 


  • More Layoffs as Coal Mine All But Shuttered
  • KVNF Youth Reporters Tackle Energy Issues
  • Ali Lightfoot on the Pass the Mic Project
  • December Storm Could be Clue to Rest of Winter Weather
  • Despite Early Snowfall, Much of State Still in Drought

More Layoffs As Coal Mine All But Shuttered

Dec 3, 2013
Elise Thatcher/Aspen Public Radio

More coal miners in the North Fork Valley are being laid off. Oxbow Mining company, owned by billionaire Bill Koch, laid off more than a hundred more employees on Monday at its Elk Creek mine.

Major Layoffs at Oxbow Coal Mine

Oct 16, 2013
Elise Thatcher/Aspen Public Radio

Two weeks ago, the coal mine near Paonia owned by billionaire Bill Koch laid off more than half of its employees. The Koch owned Oxbow Mining company hopes to expand operations again in the future and rehire some of the workers.  In the meantime the layoffs are creating hardships for a number of communities.

“It’s very sad time around the mine, you know to lose your income and lose your job is real traumatic, so it’s very painful decision for us," says Mike Ludlow, the Executive Vice President of Oxbow’s mining operations.


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  • Colorado Recall Elections Draw National Attention
  • Members of Fix the Debt Colorado Offer Solutions for Fixing National Debt
  • Proposed Bill Would Ensure States Receive Mineral Royalties This Year
  • Un-named entity abandons plans for coal mine near Redstone
  • State fair brings rural and urban together


  • Hallmark Channel TV Series Won’t Be Filmed in Telluride After All
  • Doug Lamborn Aims to Lift Regulations on Coal Mining Near Streams
  • iSeeChange Report – Drought and the Future of Western Forests
  • Supporters of School Funding Increase Gather Double the Required Signatures for November Vote
  • Delta County Conservation Budget Looks Good in Audit


  • State Announces Child Welfare Reforms
  • Another Skier Death At Aspen
  • State Snowpack Less Than Last Year
  • People Respond To BLM Deferral of NF Gas Leases
  • Oxbow's Elk Creek Mine To Re-open
  • Grant Will Improve Paonia River Park