Level 1: Elementary
Wyoming is, by far, the largest coal producing area in the United States. In 2017, mining operations across the state dug out more than 316 million tons of coal.The town of Gillette, in the northeastern part of Wyoming, has a long history of coal mining. But in July, about 600 mine workers lost their jobs when the owner of two local mines went out of business.
Workers were shocked when the mines – two of the country’s largest – closed halfway through a workday with no warning.Melissa Peterson Worden was one of those workers. “It is the thing they said would never happen,” she said about her job with the mining company Blackjewel. “And it happened.”
On the morning of July 1, Blackjewel sought bankruptcy protection in court. But when the company failed to get emergency financing to keep operating, the mines closed down later that day. They have not re-opened since.
Blackjewel’s bankruptcy is one example of the changes taking place in the U.S. electric power industry. Over the past 10 years, more than half of the nation’s 530 coal-fired power stations have closed or announced plans to do so. That information comes from an environmental group, The Sierra Club.
The reduction in coal power plants came as cleaner and less costly power technologies continued to increase.The coal industry’s problems have also affected other parts of the country, including Appalachia. Appalachia gets its name from the Appalachian Mountains. It is considered the center of America’s coal industry.
The economic downturn has affected Wyoming less than Appalachia. One reason for this is because coal is very easy to mine in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. In this area, huge pieces of coal sit just below the Earth’s surface.
Robert Godby is the director of the University of Wyoming’s Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy. He said companies with mines in the Powder River Basin were thought to be safe from a downturn because the businesses were so profitable.