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Trump's rollback of rules electrifies coal workers

By MEAD GRUVER Associated Press

GILLETTE, Wyo. -- This hardscrabble Wyoming city of about 30,000 people proclaims itself the "Energy Capital of the Nation" on the mayor's blue blazer and even the parking ticket payment boxes.

Nearby are some of the world's largest open-pit mines, where dump trucks the size of houses haul out more than 40 percent of the coal produced in the U.S. The windy, wide-open landscape around Gillette also has substantial reserves of natural gas, oil and uranium.

So when President Donald Trump lifted a federal coal leasing moratorium and ordered a review of greenhouse gas regulations, the announcement electrified many workers here who depend on fossil fuels for their livelihood. After years of layoffs and corporate bankruptcies, they are optimistic that jobs and a better economy will soon return.

"It's not all rosy right now. But anytime you can see the future and know that the United States, you know, is working with you rather than against you, that alone is nice," Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King said. She predicts the community will "come out of this bigger and better than ever" thanks to clean-coal technology and overseas exports.

But the skepticism expressed by many economists and energy experts throughout the campaign has not eased. They say the global coal market has little room for additional coal from Wyoming and especially from Appalachia, where mines are not just scaling back but closing altogether.

Nationwide, the coal industry has shed some 60,000 jobs, or more than 40 percent of its non-office workforce, since 2011. "Utilities are just staying away from coal. So that hasn't changed. That didn't change after the election, and it hasn't changed since the executive order," said Rob Godby, director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming. "The problem is that with the stroke of a pen, the president can't change market conditions very easily."

Academics with doctorates aren't dampening Gillette's newfound optimism for Trump's order.

"I think it's freaking great," said Scott Baysinger, operations manager of Baysinger Trucking, which supplies dump trucks and other heavy machinery to the coal industry. "Last year was a horrible year for us. This year already is better. We've been better all year long."

Last year, in fact, was the worst for U.S. coal production since 1978. Utilities continued to switch to cheaper and cleaner-burning natural gas to generate electricity, and the cost of wind and solar energy continued to decline.

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