Coal was king in Pennsylvania but our area was hit hard when the industry took a turn and mines shut down.
FOX56’s Katie Byrne takes a look at the lasting effects from the decline of coal mining in our communities, and how a new mine and new funding opportunities could give this rustbelt region a Coal Comeback.
“I love the people up here. It's soul of the earth. I look around and say, this is an area that really can stand to have a break," said Greg Driscoll, President and CEO of Blaschak Coal Corp.
Blaschak is based in Mahanoy City.
“This is a processing site. We have three operating mines. We have a mine in Primrose, which is just north of Mahanoy City. We have a mine at Latamer, which is in Hazleton. And we have a mine at Mount Carmel," said Driscoll.
He’s hoping the new mine in Mount Carmel could help an economy that once thrived off of coal mining.
“We can't be the sole solution to the economic difficulties of Northeast Pennsylvania. But we can contribute to it, if we get this growing again and add more to it. We could add research jobs as well as mining jobs and processing jobs. We can add to this," said Driscoll.
The Mount Carmel mine is set to open by spring, bringing at least 20 high-paying jobs to the area.
“We have men here making 110, 120 thousand dollars a year. The typical is about 60, and that 60,000 dollars," said Driscoll.
A salary of $60,000 is a couple times the median family income for most of the counties that the mining measures are in.
But what’s changed in the years since the industry was booming in the '20s?
A recent study released by the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development looks at the impact of coal mining in 13 counties across NEPA.
“We showed a loss of not only jobs and money in our economy, but we also showed a loss of human capital. Over the course of all anthracite mining history, over 30 thousand people died," said Kara McGrane, a research assistant.
“At least one person every month or maybe more would get killed in the mines," said Robert Scassellati.
Scassellati and Edward Giombetti are both 95 years old.
Today they are neighbors in Jessup. But decades ago, Scassellati was a coal miner and Giombetti worked in a coal breaker.
“Eddy worked in something just the coal mines. He worked in a breaker, where they crushed the coal and prepared it. That’s as dangerous as the mines," said Scassellati.
Scassellati was a miner for more than 10 years at different sites in Peckville, Olyphant, and Pittston.
He say it’s what everyone did back then.
“When miners went underground, they would be several hundred feet underground," said Scassellati.
The dangers they faced daily changed once the Mine Safety Act came about in the 1970s.
“It reduced the deaths greatly. It went from 30,000 people to around 90," said McGrane.
“Yes, this is something that can be dangerous. But the more aware you are, the more attention you pay to the day-to-day operation, you can really minimize those things. To us, this is orders of magnitude safer than it was in the past. And we will continue to do so," said Driscoll.
Since taking office, President Trump has rolled back on regulations, but Driscoll says that doesn’t really affect their business.
“The regulations that the President really focuses on are regulations on bituminous coal which is 95 percent of the production in the United States and around the world," said Driscoll.
But that’s not the same coal that’s being produced here in NEPA.
“Anthracite is a Pennsylvania treasure, because no one else has it," said Driscoll.
Driscoll calls anthracite coal a black diamond, because it's that rare. And it’s not just used for heating homes anymore.
“This is the kind of coal that’s used in pizza ovens," said Driscoll.
Driscoll says it can also be used to filter water and a lot of the work they are doing now is research on what else this coal is capable of.
So can it make a comeback?
Scassellati says miners have to be more careful about creating subsidences.
“The one in Jessup just caved again. And that’s been caving for years," said Scassellati.
Researchers at the Institute think the next best thing is to diversify our economy, instead of relying on one industry.
Their study got the support of ARC, who’s providing millions of dollars of funding to help the coal region.
“Organizations can apply for the funding and they will be able to hopefully bring back some prosperity to the area," said McGrane.
There’s up to $46 million available.
“To do projects that'll revitalize our economy, revitalize the community. It could help address the blight that is still here as a result of the coal industry leaving the region," said Susan Magnotta, Director of Community Outreach at the Institute.