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Pa. Coal Area Worries Emission Rules Will Cost Economy Jobs


All right, as we just heard, there is concern these new rules may hit coal communities hard. And let's spend some time in coal country now to listen to the reaction. Greene County, Pennsylvania, is in the southwest corner of the Keystone state - south of Pittsburgh, hugging the West Virginia border. One out of every five jobs there is linked to coal, but it's really part of the culture for everyone. Reid Frazier has this report, introducing us to the people of Greene County.

REID FRAZIER, BYLINE: Blair Zimmerman worked 40 years in the coal industry. Now he's a commissioner for Greene County, in the heart of coal country. So he watched intently as EPA administrator Gina McCarthy announced the new carbon rules. And sometimes he talked back to her, even though she couldn't hear him through his computer screen.

BLAIR ZIMMERMAN: And I think you're wrong. I think you're absolutely wrong.

FRAZIER: The impacts of the new rules could be especially acute here, in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania. Zimmerman is a Democrat. He supported President Obama, but he thinks of mines closing and what the industry means to his community.

ZIMMERMAN: Probably billions of dollars it brings to this community and county - employment, taxes, services. And you shut down the mines in a county that's population's only 38,000, you know, what do we do?

FRAZIER: It's a question many in the community may face in the next few years. By the EPA's own calculations, Appalachian coal production could decline by more than 30 percent under the new rule. Clyde Settie took the news in stride, as he sat down to a bleu cheeseburger at Hot Rod's Barbecue. Settie has been working in the coalfields since he was 18.

CLYDE SETTIE: I didn't go to college, didn't want to go to the military. My dad was a coal miner. My brother was a coal miner.

FRAZIER: He was eating before his afternoon shift, working 1,800 feet underground at a mine run by Consol Energy. He's not surprised that the EPA is trying to cut down on carbon emissions. He, too, thinks that the climate is changing.

SETTIE: Polluting the atmosphere, I can understand. But, you know, you're going to cost a lot of people a lot of jobs, not only the coal mining jobs, all the other jobs that are affiliated with it. It's a sad situation, but, you know, as the saying goes, fight city hall.

FRAZIER: But he wasn't buying the EPA's claim that the rule would create jobs in cleaner technologies, at least, not here.

SETTIE: They can say it's going to create new jobs, but if they don't train people, I don't see it happening because this is a fairly depressed area. There's - you know, there's a lot of food service jobs here and jobs like that. But there's no big industry here to, you know, take care of all the jobs that people are going to lose over this.

FRAZIER: One possible option for some is the booming natural gas industry. That industry is relatively new. Coal has been providing for families here for decades. Autumn Laskody runs a beauty parlor in Waynesburg. She said many of her clients have husbands who work in the mines. If they lose their jobs, businesses like hers will suffer.

AUTUMN LASKODY: And when it comes between getting your hair colored and buying milk or bread or gasoline for your family, certainly you're going to buy the milk, bread or gasoline.

FRAZIER: As she colored a woman's hair, she worried her community will be asked to bear the brunt of the global climate problem. For NPR News, I'm Reid Frazier in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.


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Reid Frazier