Stricken by layoffs in the coal industry, Greene County, Pa., went for Donald Trump this election. Many think he will help the industry, despite disagreeing with some of Trump’s rhetoric.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The inauguration of President-Elect Donald Trump is just 19 days away, and coal miners nationwide are waiting to see if Mr. Trump keeps election promises he made of new jobs through reopened mines. Reid Frazier of The Allegheny Front spoke to coal miners who say they don’t expect miracles, but they do want results.
REID FRAZIER, BYLINE: It’s been over a year since the coal mine Dave Hathaway worked in closed. He spent most of 2016 sending out resumes, looking for work. The search gained urgency when his son Deacon was born in August.
DAVE HATHAWAY: I like when he gets milk drunk and just passes back out (laughter). Little coma.
FRAZIER: On Election Day, Hathaway made a choice he hopes will help his long-term job prospects.
HATHAWAY: I voted for Trump. I mean, a coal miner would be stupid not to.
FRAZIER: Hathaway has had a hard time finding a job to replace the $80,000 dollars he made in the coal mines under Greene County, Pa., a few miles from the West Virginia border. He just got hired at a nearby mine. He thinks the election of Donald Trump means he’ll have a better shot at keeping this job even though he didn’t really like a lot of the things Trump had to say during the campaign.
HATHAWAY: He is a wacko. He still – I mean, he’s never going to stop being a wacko. You know what I mean? But, I mean, the things that he did say, the good stuff, was good for the coal mining community. But we’ll see what happens.
FRAZIER: Trump won over coal country voters like Hathaway by promising to slash environmental regulations. That message clearly resonated in Greene County, where over the last four years a third of the coal mining jobs like Dave Hathaway’s disappeared. Trump won the county by 40 points eight years after Barack Obama basically tied John McCain here. Tom Crooks witnessed the decline in coal firsthand. He’s a vice president at R.G. Johnson, a construction firm that builds mine shafts.
TOM CROOKS: Two years ago this week we had 145 employees, and right now we have 22.
FRAZIER: Crooks doesn’t use the phrase war on coal, but he does think federal regulations mounted by Obama’s EPA have weighed down his industry. One example – the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. That rule, which Trump has pledged to eliminate, limits the amount of carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants. Instead, Crooks wants to see more government research into making coal as clean as possible.
CROOKS: And really what’s happened over the last eight years is the smart people stopped working on coal, in part because of the way the federal government and the state governments looked at us. We just want them to start looking to coal as an option.
FRAZIER: Trump’s promise of bringing the coal industry back has attracted interest from at least one Democratic lawmaker in this corner of Pennsylvania. Pam Snyder is a state representative in Greene County. Snyder invited the president-elect to visit her district to tell coal miners his specific plan to help them, but she has yet to hear back from him. Snyder won’t say who she voted for, but she does think Trump can help the industry by rolling back environmental regulations.
PAM SNYDER: I care deeply about the environment. But there’s a social environment, too, that I have to care deeply about. And when a big chunk of my constituency is thrown into the unemployment lines, what about that social environment?
FRAZIER: Snyder acknowledges what many here know – there’s only so much Donald Trump can do to bring back coal. Probably the biggest factor in coal’s decline has been the low price of natural gas, some of it produced in gas wells right here in Greene County. Even though she doesn’t expect Trump to return coal to the position it once held here, at this point she’ll take a modest rebound over none at all. For NPR News, I’m Reid Frazier in Waynesburg, Pa.