Trump’s vow to bring back goal gives hope to weary re­gions

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - NATION+WORLD - By Michael Virtanen and Matthew Brown

The hard-eyed view along the Tug Fork River in West Vir­ginia coal coun­try is that Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump has some­thing to prove: that he’ll help bring back Ap­palachian min­ing, as he promised time and again on the cam­paign trail. No­body thinks he can re­vive it en­tirely — not econ­o­mists, not ex-min­ers, not even those re­cently called back to work.

But for the first time in years, coal towns are see­ing a com­mod­ity that had grown scarcer than the coal trains that used to rum­ble through around the clock: hope.

Around here that hope is mea­sured. Still, most vot­ers saw Trump as the only choice for pres­i­dent. He vowed to undo loom­ing fed­eral rules and said Pres­i­dent Barack Obama had been “ridicu­lous” to the in­dus­try. Trump told min­ers in Charleston: “We’re go­ing to take care of years of hor­ri­ble abuse. I guar­an­tee it.”

West Vir­gini­ans went all in, back­ing Trump and elect­ing a coal mine-own­ing bil­lion­aire, Demo­crat Jim Jus­tice, as gov­er­nor.

But a lot of peo­ple had gone un­der al­ready.

“Lost my home, ve­hi­cle, ev­ery­thing,” said Roger Prater. Wear­ing the miner’s tell­tale blue pants with re­flec­tive strips on the legs, Prater would be head­ing un­der­ground that night. He’d been laid off for 20 months but now ben­e­fits from a small hir­ing surge that started be­fore the elec­tion.

At 31, Prater said he can get ev­ery­thing back, but he’s un­cer­tain for how long.

“In Trump’s term, I feel we’ll do good, but af­ter that who’s to say?” he said.

That skep­ti­cism is sup­ported by in­dus­try an­a­lysts, who say any re­cov­ery won’t be cen­tered in the east­ern coal­fields of Ken­tucky and West Vir­ginia and will never bring U.S. coal back to what it once was.

Last year, the na­tion had about 66,000 coal min­ing jobs — the lowest since the U.S. En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion be­gan count­ing in 1978. That’s down 20,000 since a high point in 2008, and pre­lim­i­nary data show 10,000 more lost this year.

Mines out west stand to gain the most un­der Trump be­cause of the huge re­serves be­neath pub­lic lands in Wy­oming, Mon­tana, Colorado and Utah.

At the Wolf Moun­tain Coal com­pany near Decker, Mon­tana, su­per­in­ten­dent Dave Bettcher said he’s been pray­ing Trump can do just that.

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