Things are looking up in the coal mining town of Gillette, Wyoming. Residents feel hopeful about the election of President Donald Trump, and they hope they have someone looking out for them in the oval office.
The city of close to 32,000 people is part of Campbell county, where 26.7 percent of the county’s workforce is employed by the mining, oil and gas extraction industries, according to Wyoming’s latest economic analysis division report.
At the end of March 2016, over a period of 48 hours, 465 jobs were cut from two mines in the area. The day the cuts took place is known as “Black Thursday” in Gillette .
18 days prior to Black Thursday, during a March 13, 2016, town hall hosted by CNN, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was asked about working class voters.
“We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” Clinton responded.
The words reportedly resonated with voters, who were hit with the massive layoffs later that month. Residents say they never experienced layoffs of full time employees, and they describe the event as “terrifying.”
“It affected everyone. There wasn’t one person in this town that wasn’t affected by it,” said Stacey Moeller, a 58-year-old career coal miner in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming. “It was a devastation that I had never seen anything like.”
Wyoming mines the most coal in the country, more than the next six states combined. Eight of the country’s 10 largest coal mines operate in the Powder River Basin, according to Rob Godby, director of the Center for Energy, Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming..
Godby says “that traditional idea of the underground coal miner with the dirty face and the pickax” is not today’s coal miner. He says instead, surface or open-pit mining, where large trucks haul dirt and stones around in search of the coal found directly below, is done on a massive scale that span tens of thousands of acres.
People like Moeller make a good living at the mines, and many residents found Trumps words on the campaign trail encouraging.
“We will be America first. We will start winning, winning, winning, and you are going to be very proud. And for those miners, get ready, because you are going to be working your asses off,” Trump told an audience in Charleston, West Virginia, in May.
“We went from a down time last year, where we had a president and a presidential candidate who said they were going to shut down coal mining … to having a candidate that says, “Hey, I’m here with you. I’m here for you. We’re going to do something,'” said Jack Laakso, a retired miner.
Laakso says after the election, people were walking around with smiles on their faces. “They finally felt like the albatross was gone, that there’s been 200 pounds lifted off their shoulders,” he added.
Laasko reports that “all of a sudden, coal mines are hiring, some of the ancillary jobs that were gone are coming back — so there’s hope,” though he says people are still waiting to see what else Trump will do for coal miners.
Godby of the University of Wyoming says that although Trump and his administration have been able to reverse some Obama-era executive orders that affected coal, they reversals won’t cause massive, immediate change.
“Some of the changes or reversals of orders help coal, but others helped natural gas, and so it’s unclear just how that will balance out in the market, whether it will give the advantage to gas or coal,” Godby said.
He suggests that the Trump administration help the coal industry by subsidizing coal with a tax credit or rebate. He believes the biggest uncertainty for coal will be greenhouse gas regulation and worries that even if Trump gets out of the Paris Agreement, agreements such as that could be a problem again when Trump is out of office.
Two-thirds of Americans believe in the reality of climate change and that CO2 plays a role in it. The scientific community believes that climate change is caused by man-made factors, and coal is seen as an offender as one of the least efficient energy sources.
There are other hardships for the industry as well. According to Godby, the demand for electricity isn’t growing and natural gas is cheaper now than it was in 2008. Now, coal as an electricity source has gone down from 50 percent of the energy market to 30 percent.
Still, Gillette residents are staying positive. “I feel more optimistic than I have in the last eight years,” Moeller, a life-long Democrat said, referring to the new president. “We have optimism, and we have opportunity. Where we take that is yet to be seen, but it’s nice to have hope, and we haven’t had that in a long time.”
She says right now, people in Gillette feel like they’re on the upswing, and their proud of what they do at the mines.
“What we do is a point of pride for everyone that does it. It’s an impressive job, and it’s a hard job, and it’s demanding and difficult and dangerous. And we do it, and we do it well, and we do it efficiently. So it is a point of pride for all of us.”
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