In Trump country, a group of coal miners rebel over lost jobs, missed paychecks


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Summary

Annual U.S. coal production is expected to drop from 711 million tons to less than 600 million tons during the next five years, said Gregory Marmon, a principal coal analyst at global consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.“The administration has definitely pulled back regulations, and that has stopped some of the bleeding, but renewable energy is so cost-effective, and natural gas prices are so low, the pulling back of some regulations has not been able to stop the decline of coal,” Marmon said.[In small towns across the nation, the death of a coal plant leaves an unmistakable void]Blackjewel, which operated mines in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming, abruptly announced July 1 that it was shutting down operations. Many of the miners made $20 to $30 an hour, a middle-class salary in a county where the household median income is $24,000 a year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.Upset that the product of his labor was about to leave town while his bank account showed a negative balance of $2,100, Sexton phoned Rowe and other miners to stop the coal train on July 29, an act of defiance that continues today.After a tense standoff with Kentucky State Police troopers, the rail cars remained stationary and the miners were permitted to continue their protest. The unemployment rate surged back to 13 percent in July, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.The closure of the Blackjewel mines shouldn’t be viewed as “an issue that affects the president in any way,” Mosley said.“This is an issue of one failed company, and one failed executive who didn’t manage his company the right way,” said Mosley, a Democrat, who added the region also needs to continue diversifying its economy.As he sat in the protest camp last week, holding his 9-month-old daughter, 29-year-old David Pratt said being laid off made him decide to go to college to get his nursing degree.“I just started last Monday and decided to do it while I’m still young enough,” said Pratt, noting he’s now been laid off three times from three different coal companies over the past 11 years.But many of the miners say they remain optimistic they will soon be able to return to work after Blackjewel’s Kentucky assets are sold off to a new owner.If that happens, though, the miners believe their protest will have sent a powerful message to their new boss as well.“Coal will make a comeback, maybe not a big comeback, but it will come back,” Rowe said.

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