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Trump's Victory Elevates Hopes For People In Coal Country

Nov 11, 2016
Originally published on November 11, 2016 4:41 pm
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Coal country is celebrating Donald Trump's victory. Support for Trump was strong on Tuesday from Appalachia to Wyoming. Now that Trump has been elected, people are waiting for him to reverse coal's recent downturn. So can he? For Inside Energy, Wyoming Public Radio's Stephanie Joyce reports.

STEPHANIE JOYCE, BYLINE: Jeremy Murphy listened to the election results on the radio in his pickup truck as he worked the overnight shift at the country's largest coal mine in Wyoming's Powder River Basin. Murphy says everyone at the mine was tuned in on their own truck radios, listening for the results.

JEREMY MURPHY: The two-way radios at work were really quiet - really, really quiet.

JOYCE: But when it became clear Trump was going to win, Murphy cheered. He's originally from Kentucky but moved to Wyoming after being laid off from his coal mining job there. He worried that a Clinton presidency would mean having to move again.

MURPHY: We can't live in Wright, Wyo., in a declining coal market worse than what it has been - nobody can. Everybody here would own houses in a ghost town.

JOYCE: It's been a rough market for coal recently. U.S. production is down 20 percent over the same time last year, and thousands of miners have been laid off. Like many here, Murphy has faith that Trump can reverse those trends by rolling back environmental regulations.

Louise Carter-King is the mayor of Gillette, a town in the heart of Wyoming's coal country. She agrees.

LOUISE CARTER-KING: I think he can realistically tell the EPA to back off.

JOYCE: She wants Trump to kill President Obama's Clean Power Plan which would've dramatically cut emissions from coal-fired power plants. Carter-King says she isn't opposed to climate change regulations.

CARTER-KING: But I think the way that Obama was doing it was just heavy handed. And it just didn't make sense.

JOYCE: Killing regulations like the Clean Power Plan is the main way Trump could help the coal industry. But will it help? I posed that question to University of Wyoming economist Rob Godby.

ROB GODBY: Right, so the short answer is probably not much.

JOYCE: Coal's biggest problem in recent years has been natural gas. Fracking has unleashed vast reserves of it, pushing down the price and making it competitive with coal for electricity generation for the first time. And Trump has called for increased natural gas drilling.

ROB GODBY: The inherent contradiction in his policy is, you can't put all the coal miners to work when you don't have high natural gas prices.

JOYCE: In other words, if Trump wants to revive the coal industry, he needs to shut down the natural gas industry. And that's not going to happen. The energy sector is driven by markets. And Godby says those are hard to influence.

ROB GODBY: President Obama found out it's hard to change energy policy. President Bush found out it's hard to change energy policy. And President Trump is going to find out that it's hard to change energy policy.

JOYCE: But for people like Jeremy Murphy, the coal miner, Trump's promises are their last best hope. And if he fails to deliver...

MURPHY: If he doesn't do what he says he's going to do, you know, why are people going to vote for Republicans again?

JOYCE: The stakes couldn't be higher for both the miners and for Trump. For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Joyce in Laramie, Wyo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.