Monday, June 27, 2016

IN THE DUST - Fossil Fuel Jobs

"Tough times for U.S. towns powered by fossil fuel energy jobs" PBS NewsHour 6/20/2016

COMMENT:  Though I do have compassion for this class of workers, this is another example of what can (and does) happen when a town or region depends on just one (or very few) industries for jobs.  In today's world any town or region needs a wide and diversified source of jobs to have a resilient economy that can survive change.  The era of one-industry towns is dead.


SUMMARY:  Plummeting fuel prices are usually considered a good thing, but in rural Wyoming -- where fossil fuels like coal employ 10 percent of the state's private sector workforce -- they can spell disaster.  For the people of Gillette, dropping coal costs mean layoffs, a disappearing identity and struggles to adapt to the changing face of American industry.  Special correspondent Leigh Paterson reports.

LEIGH PATERSON (Inside Energy):  Gail Japp's horses have helped her through hard times, like when she was getting divorced.

GAIL JAPP, Former Peabody Energy Employee:  When you have had a bad day, you just come out and they just make life worth going on.

LEIGH PATERSON:  Especially this one, named Money.

GAIL JAPP:  He's very trusting and he's very loving.

LEIGH PATERSON:  Recently, things have been tough again.  Japp was one of the nearly 500 Wyoming coal miners laid off recently.  And to pay her mortgage, she will have to sell a lot of her things, including her beloved horses.

GAIL JAPP:  So, I have no choice.  I just — I have got to downsize.  And there's a lot of stuff I'm going to have to sell.

LEIGH PATERSON:  Japp worked for Peabody Energy for over a decade, mostly massive haul trucks.  After cutting jobs, including hers, in March, the coal giant declared bankruptcy in April.

GAIL JAPP:  Those were so fun.  Them things were just awesome.

LEIGH PATERSON:  She misses it, and is worried about getting a new job.

GAIL JAPP:  Yes, I can't leave Gillette, which is really going to make it hard for me to find something, because my dad is 90 years old, and then I got two grandkids here in town that try to stay with me as much as they can.  So it's just — I don't know.  It's been devastating.

LEIGH PATERSON:  That's because prices for coal, oil, and gas are all way down, all at the same time.  Revenue from those industries accounts for around 70 percent of the state's budget.

Fossil fuels employ around 10 percent of Wyoming's private sector work force, so, an energy bust hits towns like Gillette particularly hard, because this region is rich in all three, coal, oil, and gas.  Gillette even calls itself the energy capital of the nation.

But over the past year, unemployment claims in the county have more than doubled.  Businesses are closing, homes are up for sale, rail traffic is way down, and people all of the sudden are in need of basics like food.

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