Coal country reacts to climate deal exit

They are four female coal miners and they each voted for President Trump based on one issue: bringing coal jobs back to the U.S.

Gathering at a park in Gillette, Wyoming, the women said they still support the president but they are divided over his decision to pull out of the Paris Climate accord.

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Trump announced Thursday that he was withdrawing from the pact, which was inked under President Obama. While he said he was open to renegotiating aspects of the agreement, he criticized it for giving an unfair advantage to foreign workers and for its tough regulations on energy sectors like coal.

Stacey Moeller, a 58-year-old shovel operator, said she loves her job in the coal industry. But as an outdoor enthusiast, she worries about the environment and understands the industry cannot go on forever.

Related: Top CEOs tell Trump: You’re wrong on Paris

“I am not a climate change denier. I do believe we certainly have an impact. But I think we can lessen that in a responsible way that doesn’t… put entire groups of people out of work,” Moeller said.

She said she would like to see the move away from coal toward other clean energy sources be more of a transition and “less of a shut-it-down kind of mentality.”

The Paris accord imposes carbon reduction targets that impacts energy sectors like coal. But the industry’s dramatic downturn has largely been driven by the abundance of cheap natural gas.

Jodi Saunders, another shovel operator, acknowledged that “we have to go to you know the renewable sources, and I agree with that.” But she said, “‘I’m afraid that the panic will be…we have to cut the coal mines [and] we’ve already seen the layoffs.”

Related: There is no boom in coal jobs

Saunders, who is 51, said she does not want to see her own livelihood disappear and thinks America should be worrying about America first.

Yet, with only a couple hundred of coal jobs added to her area since Trump took office, Saunders acknowledged that the numbers are not as high as the president has promised. Since Trump’s election, about 1,300 jobs have been added to the coal industry, according to the Department of Labor.

wyoming coal women
[From left to right] Coal workers Lora Dilley, Stacey Moeller, Jodi Saunders and Fallon Hoverson support Trump, but they are divided over his climate deal decision.

The youngest of the group, a 33-year-old equipment operator named Fallon Hoverson, unequivocally believes climate change isn’t real. She thinks staying in the Paris agreement would have kept Trump from keeping his promises to bring coal jobs back.

“I think that we need to focus on the United States and first and foremost in making us great again, so I agree that we should pull out,” she said.

Though safety operator Lora Dilley is not certain what the impact of Trump’s decision will be, she’s unhappy with how this makes her industry – and Americans – look.

Related: Top Trump aide: Coal doesn’t make ‘much sense anymore’

Having spent over 20 years building her career in a coal mine, the 55 year old believes a solution was possible for the U.S. to stay in the climate agreement and simultaneously support clean coal technology and cut carbon emissions.

wyoming buffalo
Buffalo in Wyoming.

“I wish he hadn’t [pulled out] just because it makes us seem as though we’re not in with the rest of the world in combating climate change. So the whole appearance of it isn’t good,” Dilley said with a sigh.

Saunders said she likes the president’s tough stance because it may take the negative pressure off the coal industry. “You cannot blame one thing over the last 50 years for causing the climate change,” she said.

It’s a much more complicated matter for Moeller, who has a hard time reconciling her passion for her work and love for the environment at the same time. “This is our home, and for me that’s what it was about: the protection of Wyoming.”

CNNMoney (Gillette, Wyoming) First published June 1, 2017: 8:24 PM ET


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