Pennsylvania Coal Mine Closing As Special Election For Congress Happens In District

Mar 13, 2018
Originally published on March 13, 2018 11:20 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District is in the heart of coal country. Both candidates have courted miners there. President Trump has said he'll protect coal by cutting environmental regulations, but mines continue to close, including one in this district. Reid Frazier of the public radio program Allegheny Front and Stateimpact Pennsylvania reports.

REID FRAZIER, BYLINE: Austin Turner comes from a family of West Virginia coal miners, so after graduating high school two years ago, he went into the mines himself. And he really liked it.

AUSTIN TURNER: Just the fact that it's something, you know, most people never see. It's a little bit more of an adrenaline rush than most jobs.

FRAZIER: Turner's face is covered in black coal dust. I've caught him after one of his last shifts at the 4 West Mine where the 19-year-old makes 28.60 an hour.

TURNER: Yeah, it's pretty good. Yeah, I'm going to miss it.

FRAZIER: In January, its owners announced that it was closing. Three hundred and seventy people, including Turner, will lose their jobs.

TURNER: It's a nice place to work, great group of guys, hard workers. I hate to see the place shut down, but it is what it is. Move on to another mine.

FRAZIER: There used to be 12 coal mines in this county. By next year, there will only be two. But they're both very large. Smaller ones like the 4 West have had a harder time surviving.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELTLINE RATTLING)

FRAZIER: The 4 West beltline is a long metal structure that looks a little like an enclosed roller coaster.

It's pulling coal from a mine portal out up a hill about a quarter mile. And you can see occasionally it'll dump big piles of coal over the hillside.

The coal supplies a power plant in West Virginia. But the mine's owners say they need to shut down because of rising costs and poor geologic conditions. Mining consultant Art Sullivan says after a while, coal seams can just run out. But Sullivan says there are bigger problems like cheaper competition from natural gas. Five natural gas power plants are planned for southwestern Pennsylvania.

ART SULLIVAN: That level of electric generation typically will utilize 20 million tons of coal per year. It's going to disappear and gas is going to replace it.

FRAZIER: In a nearby town, retired coal miner Allen VanGilder says the industry's always been tough. He remembers struggling through layoffs over his 40-year career. He doesn't blame President Trump for what's happening to the industry. In fact, he says he supports the president 120 percent. Still, he feels bad for those losing their jobs.

ALLEN VANGILDER: There's not very many coal mines that they could go to, you know? I mean, they've got families. You know, they have to have something to support them. It's a shame.

FRAZIER: The 4 West Mine has already stopped producing coal. It'll shut down completely by the end of the year. For NPR News, I'm Reid Frazier in Mount Morris, Pa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.