The coal workers in Wyoming are feeling more hopeful about the future with a Trump administration. The city of Wyoming, which prides itself on being the “Energy Capital of the Nation,” produces 40% of the total coal made in the U.S.
But, prior strict government regulations were halting growth in the coal industry. This resulted in not only a sluggish economy, but also years of layoffs. Specifically, the coal industry has cut 60,000 jobs and 40% of the non-office workforce since 2011.
Obama’s regulations barred the sale of new coal leases on federal land in 2016. Last year was also the worst year for U.S. coal since 1978.
“The federal government owns nearly all of the coal reserves in the Powder River Basin and leases them to companies to mine. Even before the Obama moratorium, market forces had all but halted new leasing. To many, the measure seemed like insult on top of injury,” writes Newsmax. “Last year, around 500 miners were laid off as several large mining companies went through bankruptcy. Whether Arch Coal, Peabody or Contura Energy rehire all those workers or resume significant leasing remains to be seen. The companies have not announced any major new projects yet.”
One of President Donald Trump’s first moves to “end the war on coal’ was lifting the federal coal leasing moratorium. He also ordered a review of the current greenhouse gas regulations.
“Secretary Ryan Zinke formally lifted the ban on new coal leasing on federal land, a policy shift that was one of the cornerstones of the climate and energy executive order that President Trump signed on Tuesday,” wrote The Hill at the end of March. “Interior also suspended a review of federal coal-leasing rates that the Obama administration and environmental activists had touted as a win-win for the climate and for taxpayers.”
Coal workers and operators found it much more difficult to compete with renewable energy and felt like these companies were given and unfair advantage.
“That’s all I ever thought was fair, was that we would be allowed to compete in the market,” said Stacey Moeller, a shovel operator at Peabody Energy’s Caballo Mine to Newsmax. “And that’s what I felt was being taken away from us.”
On the campaign trail, Trump promised to save the coal industry.
“I will cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy, including shale energy and clean coal, creating many millions of high-paying jobs,” said Trump. “That’s what we want, that’s what we’ve been waiting for.”
Although experts say millions may be an overstatement, he has kept his promise to his loyal supporters in Wyoming and another coal state, Virginia.
Those in the industry have already seen an improvement.
“I think it’s freaking great,” said Scott Baysinger, operations manager of Baysinger Trucking, a supplier of heavy machinery to the coal industry. “Last year was a horrible year for us. This year already is better. We’ve been better all year long.”
Some aren’t as optimistic. “Utilities are just staying away from coal. So that hasn’t changed. That didn’t change after the election, and it hasn’t changed since the executive order,” said Rob Godby, director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming. “The problem is that with the stroke of a pen, the president can’t change market conditions very easily.”
Nonetheless, it appears that the mood of the state has been lifted following Trump’s election.
“You talk about consumer confidence,” said Richard Chafee, general manager of Jack’s Truck & Equipment. “We’ve had very good consumer confidence here last three months.”
The Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King said that “It’s not all rosy right now. But anytime you can see the future and know that the United States, you know, is working with you rather than against you, that alone is nice” and also predicted that the community will “come out of this bigger and better than ever.”