Saturday, June 3, 2017

How ‘the Energy Capital of the Nation’ regained its optimism in the Trump era - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

Robert Samuels June 2 at 6:00 AM, Washington Post

Image from article, with caption: A train carrying cars full of coal cuts through Gillette, Wyo., which calls itself “the energy capital of the nation.”
The resurrected feeling of American possibility came not from pontificating TV pundits or a radio host in a studio miles away. Optimism arrived here [Gillette, Wyo.] because of what people were seeing: the unemployment lines getting shorter and their daily commutes getting longer. ... 
images from (a) (b)

In Gillette and surrounding Campbell County, people were beginning to feel the comeback they voted for. Unemployment has dropped by more than a third since March 2016, from 8.9 percent to 5.1 percent. Coal companies are rehiring workers, if only on contract or for temporary jobs. More people are splurging for birthday parties at the Prime Rib and buying a second scoop at the Ice Cream Cafe.
In a divided nation, optimism had bloomed here in a part of the country united in purpose and in support of the president. Close to 90 percent voted for the same presidential candidate, and 94 percent of the population is the same race. And everyone has some connection to the same industry. [JB emphasis] They felt optimistic about the tangible effects of the Trump economy, which favors fossil fuels, and the theoretical ones, which favor how they see themselves. Once on the fringes, their jobs had become the centerpiece of Trump’s American mythology. Maybe it was President Trump. Much was surely because of the market, after a colder winter led to increases in coal use and production. But in times when corporate profits are mixed with politics, it was difficult for people here to see the difference. ...
“I happen to love the coal miners,” Trump said Thursday, when he announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. The president said he backed out of the global agreement, in part, because it “doesn’t eliminate coal jobs. It just transfers those jobs . . . to foreign countries.”
Even so, Trump’s decision on Paris wasn’t what many here wanted; they felt it was better for the United States to be part of an agreement that so directly affects their livelihoods.  ...
At least, though, they had a president who was trying to protect their jobs.
When the mines laid off workers in March 2016, the city ­spiraled down into a period of job- and soul-searching. Environmentalists on the coasts had long derided their type of work as toxic. Democrats, led by presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, declared their jobs passe. Gillette had coal, oil and gas, but so much attention was placed on wind and solar and turning miners into computer programmers. In an increasingly interwoven country, residents grappled with whether there was still a place in America for their kind of community — even if it kept the lights on. ...
In January 2016, President Barack Obama issued a moratorium on leasing federal lands for coal exploration that was a direct hit to Gillette, where most mining was done on federal land. The environmental regulations that had helped propel the industry were now stifling it.
Then came a warm 2015 winter, which led to less demand for fuel. “I’ve never seen low oil and gas prices and low coal prices all at once,” she said. “And then we had a president who didn’t want to help us. It was a perfect storm for things to get downright ­depressing.”
By all accounts, it did. After the warm winter, Arch Coal and Peabody Energy laid off close to 500 people in two of the area’s 12 mines in March 2016. Coal production dropped by 34 percent during the first half of 2016, according to state data and news reports, and the state lost nearly $300 million in tax revenue.
This downturn didn’t seem like the ones people here once knew. It felt intentional, political, personal — caused by people who residents thought didn’t understand them. Many seethed at “the environmentalists.” ...

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