Alpha Natural Resources, the nation’s third-largest coal producer, has announced that it will “close four mines in Kentucky and West Virginia and idle two more over the next 12 months.” [E&E ClimateWire (sub. req.)] 152 Alpha employees will lose their jobs, while another 182 will be offered reassignment.

The coal industry has been challenged recently by low natural gas prices and new federal clean air regulations. These factors have compelled some electric utilities to close their coal-fired power plants, or to switch them to natural gas or other, cleaner coal sources. Utilities such as FirstEnergy, Duke Energy, and American Electric Power have recently announced coal-fired plant closures. Other factors hampering the coal industry are the slow economy and growing market share of renewable energy sources.

What do you make of this news? From what standpoint is this trend of decreased coal demand a bad thing? From what standpoint is it positive?