Hazard, Kentucky is one of those small coal-mining towns with a main road meanders through the hollow. Both sides of the road are lined with a handful of shops and restaurants. The windows on about half of the stores are now covered with newspapers. The signs at the front saying, ” closed.”
That is what happens in a one-industry town as the president is against that industry. Carla Hall on the small Feltner’s Barbershop, right on the main road, knows that all too well.
“My company was huge,” she said.
As Carla, everyone in the city, the insurer and the waitress in the café, is ultimately associated with money that comes out of the mine.
“When they begin to be fired, they spread out the haircuts,” she said.
However, there is a new sense of optimism in the coal country, and that is linked to a new president from the campaign, often bellowed: “We plan to put our miners back to work.”
“I love coal to win,” Carlos Sturdill said 250 metres under the ground in the E4-1 mine in Hazard. That mine shut down in the Obama years. There are many factors that allowed the mine to re-open and people like Sturdill to get back to work.
For starters, the whole economy has seen a bump. That has led to a demand for steel. The high quality of the coal that comes out of Appalachia is well-suited for making steel.
“I am happy to work. I am grateful, I have a job again,” Sturdill said. Then you have President Trump started with the reduction of regulations in the beginning of his time on the job. One of Trump’s early executive orders was to roll back the Current Protection of the Rule. The SPR was made in the 11th hour of the Obama presidency, and it would be a tax on coal companies for the testing of streams before during and after the mining. Trump, followed by the undo of the 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule, which led to a broadening of the definition of a body of water.
According to the West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, the rule “the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to assert Federal authority over a large number of small bodies of water, such as ditches along the road, a short duration, streams and other places where water can flow every 100 years.”
The industry is hopeful Trump will also the repeal of the Clean energy Plan and the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards act, which many argue is a heavy tax on coal by the design.
“It is clear that we are more optimistic,” said J. Mark Campbell, Chairman of the Cambrian Coal Group. “We are looking for new projects.”
That does not mean that the hard times are over for people who are dependent on a mining salary. During the Obama administration, the figures obtained by Fox News show that 36,800 miners lost their jobs. In September last year, the number of people mining coal, hitting the lowest point since 1985.
Since Trump took office, 300 miners have been re-hired.
Ninety of the new employees are on the E4-1 mine in Hazard. But that was after the mine was hit by a series of redundancies since 2012 that left 460 workers out of a job.
“Maybe it’s a bit C comeback at this point,” said Chris Hamilton, Senior VP of the West Virginia Coal Association.
No one expected that coal jobs to come back to their heyday. Some of the causes can be pinned on the former President Obama.
Under pressure to get away from coal, some power plants to shut down. Some were built for the burning of natural gas. Now that officials spend the money, they do not go back, especially since hydraulic fracturing makes natural gas available and cheap.
“So, a lot of that part of the market is removed,” said Dr. Anthony Szwilski of West Virginia’s Marshall University. “Although coal is coming back and there will be jobs in the future, they are likely to go back to where it was 10-15 years ago.”
Technology has also advanced. The reality is this: you can get more coal out of the ground now with less people.
“It will never be back as it was,” Campbell said.
Even Sturgill, although happy to be back underground to do the job that he loves, knows mining is a way of life that has a limited future.
“I have no son, but I wouldn’t tell him to me,” he says as the beam of his headlamp to follow his eyes and fall to the bottom of the mine.
Michael Tobin joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Chicago based correspondent.