ACOSTA, PA. — On a warm June morning, a large crowd gathered in the lush, gentle folds of the Allegheny Mountains to hear President Donald Trump live on video.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to be speaking with you on this great, great day,” he said. “The miners of Pennsylvania are mining coal again.”
On a stage, five men unfurled a gold banner that blared, in large black letters: “Trump Digs Coal,” as the audience went wild.
For the first time in nearly a decade, a new coal mine has opened here, and a US president has rallied alongside an industry deemed by many as obsolete.
The Acosta Deep Mine in Somerset County marks a dramatic upturn for the area. And while President Trump cannot claim that he brought the industry back here personally (this new mine was already being developed before the election), he is an effective cheerleader for folks who’ve been discounted by the political elite.
“We will begin by employing 70 to 100 miners and we hope to open a total of three new mines in the next 18 months — and that will mean additional hiring,” said George Dethlefsen, CEO of Corsa Coal, which owns the mine.
More than 400 people applied for the first wave of jobs that will pay from $50,000 to $100,000, Dethlefsen said.
In a region where the median household income is $29,050, and nearly 12 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the economic injection is huge.
‘I don’t think people outside of our small town understand how life-changing this development is.’
– Greg Griffith, coal miner
It also creates a ripple effect: For every new job generated by the mine, even more jobs like waitresses, hotel workers, barbers or grocery workers are needed to support the community.
“The money essentially stays here in our hometown,” said Greg Griffith, owner of Griffith Excavating, who was working the mine last week with his crew. He has hired new people to take on the workload and will employ even more as the other mines open.
“I don’t think people outside of our small town understand how life-changing this development is.”
He’s right about that. Just days after the event, progressives on Twitter slammed the mine, comparing the opening of an energy-supplying coal pit to the launching a VCR factory in the digital age. In their minds, it’s a waste of time.
And the response from the people of Acosta? Stop treating other Americans like the enemy.
They also point out that the criticism is wildly misinformed. The coal from this mine is not going to be used for energy — instead, it will be used for the production of steel for the next 15 years. (According to the World Steel Association, coal is used to make 70 percent of the steel today.)
Every single one of us relies on steel in our daily lives. It’s found in our cars, bikes and public transportation. Those wind turbines so loved by environmentalists? Made of steel. The utensils we use to eat? Steel. Medical devices used to save lives? Steel.
Roads, bridges, appliances and even iPhones and computers all contain steel.
Meanwhile, digital business publication Quartz also knocked the mine, pointing out that 70 new hires is a significantly smaller number than the 92 jobs one supermarket opening would create.
But most folks in a grocery store don’t earn $50,000 to $100,000, and making an apples-to-oranges comparison (retail vs. mining) demonstrates a lack of understanding about coal country and its work force.
It also encourages the delusion that hiring just 70 people won’t create an economic engine for a community.
“That could not be more wrong-headed,” said Sean Isgan, president of CME Engineering, located right across the street from the Somerset County courthouse.
Because of the new mine, Isgan’s business will also expand. “We will hire geologists, surveyors, engineers, computer draftsmen, biologists, wetland people . . . you know, different kinds of sciences,” he said. “So they’re all good-paying jobs, full benefits.”
The life of a coal miner has changed dramatically in the past 100 years. Even in the last decade, the work has become safer, the processes better regulated.
“There is a tremendous amount of regulation that’s involved in coal mining, whether it’s environmental or safety, both of which are extremely critical and valued parts of our business,” Dethlefsen said.
His company has 20 staffers dedicated to environmental issues — clean water, clean air and reclaiming mine sites.
“We are committed to environmental protection, we are committed to safety, we are committed to restoring land to its original contours,” he said. “We do all those things every day, and we spend millions of dollars doing it. It’s a 24/7, 365-day-a-year effort. That is a big change versus the past.”
But many Americans aren’t aware of this modernization. So having a president who believes in this industry, and rallies publicly for it, means a lot. Trump has “created an optimism in the business community that has trickled down from big companies to small, and for all of their workers,” Dethlefsen said.
It’s this support that compelled the people of Somerset County to give Trump their vote. His loyalty won them over months ago, and it won’t be forgotten in a hurry.