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Decline in Coal - Impact on Workers

((Banner: Left in the Dust))
((Reporter/Camera: Steve Baragona))
((Map: Gillette, Wyoming))

((Popup Banner:
Wyoming mines 40% of America’s coal, fueling electric power
But those coal plants are shutting down as utilities switch to other
((Melissa Peterson Worden, Blackjewel Worker))
The gates went down. They pulled everybody off. And that is a
really sobering moment because, because it is the thing they said
would never happen, and it happened.
((Popup Banner: Wyoming’s Blackjewel coal mining company
shuttered in 2019))
((Robert Godby, Economist, University of Wyoming))
So, the Powder River Basin is special for a number of reasons.
The first is that the deposits there are kind of freakish. There
aren't many places in the world where there are coal deposits like
this. They're very close to the surface and the seams are huge.
And the thing about these mines, though, is that the bigger they
get, the cheaper it gets to produce. So, what you end up with is
basically 10 of the largest mines, not only in the country but in the
Rory Wallet: “Hi girls!”))
((Rory Wallet, Blackjewel Miner))
I'm Rory Wallet. I'm a displaced miner with Blackjewel here in
Wyoming, Gillette, Wyoming, at the Bel Air mine. It's, kind of, a
family thing. My sister, my father and my stepfather have all been
in the mines. My grandfather was a phosphate miner before that.
It's a wonderful way to make a living, a decent, livable living. I've
got four kids. So, it's a great way to keep them insured and keep
food on the table, keep a good home over their head.
((Robert Godby, Economist, University of Wyoming))
That was the thinking, that this wouldn't affect us. Coal is just a
necessary commodity because we need electricity and there's
just no other cheap way to do it, which was really denying what
was going on in the market. Market forces have moved the coal
market to a place most of us didn't anticipate in a really short
period of time. And so, you know, if there was ever a war on coal
right now, it was declared by natural gas.
((Rory Wallet, Blackjewel Miner))
You can, kind of, see the mine up there. About 8 o'clock, we
started getting some messages and calls from friends that had
worked the night shift and been brought in to be told we were
filing bankruptcy. It wasn't a huge shock. The huge shock was
when three o'clock rolled around and we started to hear that they
were pulling people out of the pits and they were going to idle the
mines down. That's when we really were caught off guard. It was
a total surprise. You never expect the mine just to suddenly shut
down. The layoffs in 2016 between the mines out here in the
basin was 500 people. You know, we had 60, 90 days’ notice on
all that. We knew those were coming. This one was just out of
the blue.
Oh, we're struggling. We're struggling. We're holding on. Our
big one is the house payment.
((Trey McConnell, Manager, The Railyard Restaurant))
I feel for these guys when this kind of stuff happens. You know,
luckily, we live in a community where the community really, kind
of, helps each other out. In Gillette, you know, oil, gas and coal,
you know, they're, kind of, the big guys. We're just here to
supplement their wanting to eat, have some drinks, come watch a
football game, whatever. So, when all that stuff gets affected, it
affects us in a really big way. You know, that's when jobs get cut.
That's when hours get cut. That affects their bottom line and
affects how they pay their bills, you know, and how they live their
((Melissa Peterson Worden, Blackjewel Worker))
That is the big question, what's next? And pardon the pun,
Gillette needs to dig deep to figure out what ‘next’ is. The United
States is saying, ‘What do you have for us now?’ And we have to
come up with a better answer than, ‘if you don't like coal, don't
turn your lights on.’ We can't be those people anymore.