Despite broad consensus about coal’s bleak future, a years-long effort to diversify the economy of this hard-hit region away from mining is stumbling, with Obama-era jobs retraining classes undersubscribed and future programs at risk under President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget.
…Hundreds of coal-fired plants have closed in recent years, and cheap natural gas continues to erode domestic demand. The Appalachian region has lost about 33,500 mining jobs since 2011, according to the Appalachian Regional Commission.
Although there have been small gains in coal output and hiring this year, driven by foreign demand, production levels remain near lows hit in 1978.
…“The coal industry has stabilized, but it’s not going to come back,” said Blair Zimmerman, a 40-year veteran of the mines who is now the commissioner for Greene County, one of Pennsylvania’s oldest coal regions.
… Coal miners are resisting retraining without ready jobs from new industries, but new companies are unlikely to move here without a trained workforce. The stalled diversification push leaves some of the nation’s poorest areas with no clear path to prosperity.
…They say mining pays well; other industries are unfamiliar; and there’s no income during training and no guarantee of a job afterward.
…Coal jobs are preferable to those in natural gas, they said, because the mines are close to home, while pipeline work requires travel.