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Mayor Of Wyoming Coal Town Reacts To Trump's Climate Order


To get reaction from coal country, we reached out to the mayor of a town that calls itself the energy capital of the nation. Louise Carter-King is mayor of Gillette, Wyo. Wyoming is by far the largest coal-producing state in the U.S., and Gillette is in the heart of the Powder River Basin. About 30,000 people live in the town surrounded by some of the largest coal mines in the country. I asked Carter-King how important coal is to Gillette.

LOUISE CARTER-KING: Oh, it is very important. It has made us the wonderful city and community that we are today. You know, I think everyone has a misconception of coming here and that we're, you know, all covered in coal dust or anything, and it's anything but the truth. We have a beautiful city here, and we have used the taxes that we have gained from the coal industry being here very wisely.

SHAPIRO: And so everybody I would imagine knows someone who works in the mines.

CARTER-KING: Yes. My husband does, as a matter of fact.

SHAPIRO: Now, lots of coal companies in Wyoming and around the country have declared bankruptcy recently. What kind of effect did that have on Gillette?

CARTER-KING: Well, no one ever stopped coal production, but it sure did put a damper on it. About a year ago, we had our - I say the darkest day here was when about 500 coal miners were laid off from their jobs. But since then, quite a few have been rehired, and coal production has gone up. So just like my husband - he's had forced overtime. So we feel that it's looking brighter for coal.

SHAPIRO: President Trump is obviously sending a message today by signing this flanked by coal miners. How much of an impact do you think this can really have?

CARTER-KING: I think it will be good for the coal market, but I feel that there are other forces that will help the industry more just as much. But this at least will, you know, help the coal industry know that at least there's an administration that is behind them and not against them.

SHAPIRO: How much of the job losses do you think were because of regulation?

CARTER-KING: You know, I think probably not a lot of them, but I think what it did was - if it wasn't for the regulations, I think the coal mine industry would not have maybe laid off so many because they were probably preparing for the future, saying, not only is the coal market bad now, but it doesn't - they couldn't see a light at the end of the tunnel. So I think when everything started looking up again and Trump got elected, they figured out they better get people back on. One man here described it as Christmas every day since Trump was elected and especially since he was inaugurated.

SHAPIRO: Is that just because of a hope of where things will go next, or is it because of actual changes that you're seeing in town?

CARTER-KING: Well, he has made some big changes. I mean we were pretty happy about his selections for some of his Cabinet members like the EPA. And we are just happy that someone is listening to us. We felt for eight years no one would even listen.

SHAPIRO: There are a variety of pressures on the coal industry right now. There are environmental pressures. There's the low price of natural gas. There's also mechanization. And when you look at the increase in mechanization in mines, do you fear that coal miners will be put out of work no matter what environmental regulations there may or may not be?

CARTER-KING: Well, I suppose. You know, already I've seen the 30 years that there's been coal mining here in this county, there has always been, like, the drag lines, which are just huge, huge machines that - no telling how many, you know, maybe shovels or whatever they put out of work. So I think the industry has always been that type. It's just not going to be back in the days of how it used to be, you know, even with one guy with a shovel.

So yes, I think as technology and, you know, like you say, mechanization moves on, it probably will put more coal miners out of work. But I think if we open up this market to the rest of the world and they need more and more coal, there will be plenty of jobs in the near future or, you know, 40, 50 years, I'd say.

SHAPIRO: Mayor Louise Carter-King of Gillette, Wyo., thank you for joining us.

CARTER-KING: Oh, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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