Carlos Sturdill is a career Kentucky coal miner.
He’s doing something he hasn’t done in three years — mining coal.
“I’m glad to be working,” Sturdill said. “Thankful that I’ve got a job again.”
A bounce in the economy created a demand for steel — and you need coal to make it.
An adversary to coal moved out of the White House and a president moved in who started rolling back regulations that crippled mining.
“Obviously, we’re more optimistic. Instead of retrenching, we’re looking for new projects.”
It’s not a storybook ending for the coal miners. At the Perry County mine, since 2012, they have laid off 460 guys. In the last two months, they hired 90. Nationwide, call companies have laid off tens of thousands. New hires are in the hundreds.
“Maybe it’s a little ‘c’ comeback at this point. We’re very confident, and we’re very positive about everything we’re seeing since the November election and President Trump taking the controls of the energy agencies that regulate the industries.”
As technology advances, equipment becomes more efficient — requiring less manpower.
In the Obama years, some coal-fired power plants either shut down or built infrastructure to burn natural gas that put coal in competition with fracking and cheap fossil fuel.
“So, a lot of that — chunks of the market has been taken away. So, even though coal is coming back and there will be employment in the future, they are unlikely to go back to where it was 10 to 15 years ago.”
Retail business people in little coal towns like Hazard, Kentucky are happy for any comeback — but they know they will never come back all the way.
“When they stared doing all the layoffs, my business went down tremendously.”
The question is: are the new hires due to something tangible the president has done, like the rollback in regulations, or just a sense of optimism because coal has a proponent in the White House as opposed to an adversary?
Everyone with whom we spoke — from the university experts to the people in the center of town and the coal miners themselves — say it’s more about the optimism.