KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
When President Trump announced the U.S. was pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, he said he was doing it to protect American workers. He talked about the coal industry, and there was a surprise mentioned about one particular coal mine in Pennsylvania.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: A big opening of a brand-new mine. It's unheard of. For many, many years, that hasn't happened.
MCEVERS: American coal mines have been shutting down for about a decade. Reid Frazier of the public radio program "The Allegheny Front" reports on why this one opens tomorrow.
REID FRAZIER, BYLINE: The Acosta Deep Mine is an hour east of Pittsburgh in a green valley between two ridges. Matt Owens stands where the mine entrance will be, at the bottom of a freshly dug hole about the size of a football field.
MATT OWENS: This is the actual coal pit.
FRAZIER: Owens is the mine's safety manager. A couple of crews around the pit are installing high-voltage electric lines to run equipment and fitting together big tubes to bring fresh air underground. When opened, the Acosta Deep Mine will employ around 70 miners. Owens points to the wall of the pit.
OWENS: The coal seam's right there at the bottom. I mean, it's 43 inches over on this side. That's our high spot.
FRAZIER: Now, this mine was in the works well before Donald Trump was elected president. And it's not the same kind of coal used to make electricity. The mine will produce metallurgical or met coal, which is used to make steel. Coal industry consultant Art Sullivan says the price for metallurgical coal has surged in the past year thanks to events outside the U.S. China cut back its own production, and a cyclone hurt the coal industry of Australia, the largest exporter of met coal. Sullivan says this mine opening is about market economics, not politics.
ART SULLIVAN: It's quite certain that the president's election and any of his policies have had absolutely nothing to do with that new mine.
FRAZIER: But don't tell that to the regulars at the nearby Coal Miner's Cafe.
DAVE BERKEY: My business changed since November the 8.
FRAZIER: Dave Berkey owns an excavating company that had done work with the mines, but that work slumped. Half the coal mining jobs in the county were lost between 2012 and 2015.
BERKEY: But now it's coming back. And actually, people in the area's happier right now because there is jobs coming into the area.
FRAZIER: Berkey is having breakfast with a group of other local business owners, all of whom supported Trump. He says his business from coal mines began picking up the day after the election.
BERKEY: Literally, literally.
TOM ALTMAN: You could actually feel the difference in the atmosphere up here the day of the election.
FRAZIER: That's Tom Altman. He owns a local company that makes lighting.
ALTMAN: People just felt hopeful again. There's hope back in this country where there was no hope before.
FRAZIER: That optimism may be real, but energy analysts say most coal in this country is used to make electricity. And it still faces big challenges, namely competition from cheap natural gas. Whoever or whatever is causing the Acosta mine to open, the end result is the same for Matt Owens. As he leaves the mine pit in his pickup, he remembers worrying about losing his job as his company weathered layoffs over the last few years.
OWENS: I was hoping it didn't come to that. It crossed all of our minds. We didn't know what was going to happen.
FRAZIER: Now, he says, it feels good to have work for a few years at least. For NPR News, I'm Reid Frazier.
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