Voters in Coal Country Split over Presidental Candidates

​The battleground state of Pennsylvania helped deliver President Trump the White House in 2016. He was the first Republican presidential candidate to win the state in nearly three decades…propelled to victory, in part, by large turnout in the state’s rural coal country.

Posted: Oct 21, 2020 7:15 PM

The battleground state of Pennsylvania helped deliver President Trump the White House in 2016. He was the first Republican presidential candidate to win the state in nearly three decades (since 1988), propelled to victory, in part, by large turnout in the state’s rural coal country.

For decades, mining in the region has been a source of pride and survival.

“That crew that you worked with, those eight men, that was your second family; you were there working in the mine because of your first family, if you didn’t work, they didn’t eat,” said retired miner Steve Corcoran.

Corcoran, who’s voting to re-elect President Trump, says he worries about what a Biden administration would mean for his hometown.

“Some of his views, some of his plans; it would devastate this area,” said Corcoran.

It’s a fear that impacted the vote in coal country in 2016, when President Trump carried Greene and Fayette counties by more than 60 percent.

“He was going to bring coal back,” recalled Tony Brnusak, a longtime Democrat who voted for the president in 2016. This year, however, he’s voting for Biden.

“I was lied to once, and you ain't going to lie to me a second time.” said Brnusak. “Coal is a dying industry,” he continued. “I never thought I'd say those words, but it is.”

Despite the Trump administration rolling back regulations, coal has seen double digit declines and plants have continued to close.

Rhodium Group, an independent research firm, expects a 20% reduction in coal generation this year. According to the group, 49 gigawatts of coal have retired, including plants that have announced plans to retire in the remainder of 2020, under the Trump administration, compared to 36 gigawatts of coal retired in the last four years of the Obama administration.

Economic forces including the natural gas fracking boom is considered a driving cause, but fracking has also benefited the area, which is abundant in natural gas.

“There are so many other jobs that complement the gas industry,” said Brian Harkins who works in logistics and trucking. He views Biden’s messaging on fracking as mixed.

During an ABC News Townhall October 15, Biden said he does not propose banning fracking.

“I think you have to make sure that fracking is in fact not emitting methane or polluting the well or dealing with what can be a small earthquakes and how they’re drilling. So it has to be managed very, very well number one,” he said.

Biden has said he would ban new gas and oil permits, including fracking, on federal lands. The Democratic nominee has also campaigned on building a new green energy infrastructure and retraining workers for green jobs.

“As as far as the green jobs go, I'm sure a lot of the younger guys probably could transition to something like that. But it would be very difficult,” said Harkins. “Guys maybe in their 40s or 50s, it might be difficult for them to transition into that type of job. And then are they going to how much are these jobs going to pay?”

Those in the industry worry about not only a loss of income, but also a loss of identity in a region where energy has fueled life and politics.

“My two son-in-laws that work in the gas industry; they lose their jobs, well they can come live with me, but it’s scary,” said Steve Corcoran.

(CBS News)

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