Coal mine to close, experts say indicative of national trends

Galatia’s New Era coal mine will close in a few months, officials say. Last Wednesday, 50 workers were laid off with more to come.

The mine near Harrisburg is the first in Illinois to announce it’s closing this year, industry experts say. It’s bad news at a time when Illinois’ coal business is booming.

Officials say hundreds of workers at the New Era mine in Galatia will be losing their jobs come 2016 . When the news came down, one miner says he came back above ground only to find he’d been laid off. The entire town of Galatia is reeling from the news, bracing itself for big changes.

"It’s not like it just affects one person, it affects everybody,” said Galatia Mayor David Harrawood.

“It’s not just the coal miners who are affected, you know? It’s the shopkeepers. It’s a trickle down deal," Harrawood said.

Harrawood says it will hit everyone in some way.

With miners constantly in and out of the Russell Oil Company, a convenience store in town, owner Leon Russell says businesses will feel the pinch, too.

"Well, it’s going to have an effect. There will be fewer customers and less money spent," Russell said.

American Coal Company says underground mining will stop mid-2016, crediting the closing to the end of its reserve life, but also to President Barack Obama’s policies and natural gas trends.

Phillip Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association, says the mine’s closing is in line with coal trends around the country, but is out of the ordinary for Illinois —where coal production is up more than 20 million tons over the last four years. He says bringing that number up and keeping it there is largely due to how easy it is to extract the coal in Illinois.

But Gonet says if things don’t change, coal production around the state will wind down, as it is now for Galatia’s New Era mine.

American Coal Company reports 450 people will continue working at Galatia’s other mine, New Future. That number is down from the 833 workers previously employed between the mines.

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