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Pennsylvania Coal Mine To Close

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It was announced this past week that a coal mine - the 4 West Mine - in southwestern Pennsylvania will close. It's another blow to the coal industry, which President Trump has promised to revive. Mepco, the company that owns 4 West, said it would be shutting down the Greene County mine because it had become less productive and more costly to operate. About 400 workers will lose their jobs. We're joined now by Blair Zimmerman. He's chairman of the Greene County Board of Commissioners, whose residents will be affected. Welcome.

BLAIR ZIMMERMAN: Thank you. Thank you very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So are there retraining programs for the people who will be out of work?

ZIMMERMAN: Actually, it's funny you asked that because I worked in the coal industry for over 40 years. And a lot of coal miners historically have thought, well, I'm going to get back in the industry.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right, because it's like...

ZIMMERMAN: ...Well, those days are gone.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: For mining families - right? - it's not just a livelihood, but it's also a culture. It's part of their identity.

ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, in this area, you know, generation after generation worked in the industry. And President Trump said he's bringing back coal, but there's not been any change in regulations, really, to make a significant difference. And I don't know that would anyway. We need help. My community and economic development department are constantly calling companies, corporations, manufacturers across this country, trying to get them to relocate to Greene County. We have a great interstate system. We've got river transportation, rail - and trying to get them to come to Greene County to replace the mines as they close.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you say, we need help, what has been the response?

ZIMMERMAN: Well (laughter), I was on Capitol Hill. I was actually at the White House. And President Trump didn't meet with us. He was out of the country. But, you know, honestly, I think it was campaign rhetoric. I'm not asking for a handout. I'm just asking for a helping hand - not only Pennsylvania, but West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama. There's a lot of mines prior to this mine closing that have closed, and you just don't bring coal back. So we need to look outside of the coal industry in the future.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your region supported Trump this past election. Am I right?

ZIMMERMAN: That's correct. You know what? He said the right things. He said, I'm bringing back coal and talked about the Second Amendment, not taking away guns. And that's the big part of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, this corner. And he said the right stuff.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are people thinking about the president these days?

ZIMMERMAN: You know, people aren't boasting as much as they did during the election. You know, he's going to bring coal back, and he's going to do this. Well, he hasn't. And at least in some of the meetings I've been in, it was - he was just saying what people wanted to hear to get elected. And I sincerely believe that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Trump said that he's trying to roll back regulations. We have seen an uptick in coal exports, which has allowed for more production of coal. Do you see that having a long-term effect in your community?

ZIMMERMAN: I just really don't see a major change in the industry because of what he's done.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sir, after this news, can you tell me the mood in your community right now?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, to tell you the truth, it really hasn't hit home yet, to be honest with you. It's been a little bit of talk, but not a lot. But I'm sure in the next days - next few days, we'll hear more about it. But like I was saying, a lot of coal miners hang out - hold on to the fact that they think they will get called back to the industry. And some of them will, but a majority of them won't. And they need to look beyond coal.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Blair Zimmerman, in Waynesburg, Pa., thank you so much for speaking with us.

ZIMMERMAN: Oh, you're welcome. Have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.