Small Town Residents on Coal Plant Closures

  • Monongahela resident Kim Garrity is concerned about job loss in the valley due to the plant closures, but worries about air quality, too. Her oldest son has asthma. Photo: Casey Premoshis

  • Jess Stankus, of Eighty-Four, Pa., thinks industry should be regulated. Photo: Casey Premoshis

  • The coal industry is deeply tied into the history and economy of Mid Mon Valley communities. Photo: Kara Holsopple

  • Larry Taylor and Allen Gregg are members of the New Eagle Community Action Group. The Mitchell coal-fired power plant can be seen from the dock near the community park their group maintains. Photo: Joshua Franzos/The Pittsburgh Foundation

July 27, 2013

The Mon Valley communities of Monongahela and New Eagle are the back yards of FirstEnergy’s Mitchell coal-fired power plant, which is one of two plants recently placed on the chopping block.

At the busy Foodland grocery store in Monongahela, Pa., Kim Garrity is shopping with two of her sons.  She’s lived in this small town all of her life, and remembers a time when the air was less clean, as a result of all of the industry in the area.  Pollution was so thick, you could see it, she says.  She agrees that closing the nearby Mitchell power plant will make the air even cleaner.  And that would make a difference to her family.

“My oldest has asthma, so cleaning up the air would help,” she says. 

But she’s concerned about job loss in this small community.  Dozens of people will lose their jobs as a result of the Mitchell power plant closure.

“Especially in this area, there’s not a lot of employment for people.  So it’s going to be hard.  There are alternative methods of power.  But like I said, what are we going to do with all the people out of work? That’s the main concern around here,” Garrity says.

Jess Stankus agrees.  Sitting on a bench in a nearby park, enjoying a coffee before his afternoon shift as a press operator, Stankus says he doesn’t understand why the plant has to close. 

“You could have a nice clean place, but nobody’s working.  You got to know where to draw the line,” he says. 

He says clean air is important to him, but that the rest of the world is just doing what they want with coal use, so why should the Mon Valley suffer economic loss?  Stankus says it’s good that there are limits, but that should apply to industry and regulators.

“Everybody’s got to be regulated.  Even the people who regulate,” he says.

Nearby New Eagle, Pa. shares a Main Street with Monongahela.  At a popular locally-owned restaurant on the main drag, the lunch crowd is rolling in.  John Newman of Bentleyville weighs in on the plant closures while he’s waiting to be seated. 

“I don’t think it’s right...they made big improvements down there.  They put money in Masontown, they put money down in Mitchell.  And they’re losing how many jobs,” Newman says. 

He says that the scrubbers installed to clean the emissions from the plants should be enough pollution controls, and that they should continue to operate.  He blames President Obama and too many regulations for the loss of jobs which will result from the Mitchell and Hatfield’s Ferry plants closing. 

Larry Taylor blames the power companies themselves.  Taylor is a former coal miner, and now, a member of the New Eagle Community Action Group.

“They had over 20 years to get ready for this.  And your companies didn’t want to invest. So now they pay,” Taylor says.

The Mitchell plant can be seen from the Monongahela river dock of the community park that Taylor’s group  maintains.  As he looks at the smoke coming out of the plant’s stack, he says the future of energy in the region is clear.

“The wave of the future here is natural gas.  Coal can’t compete with natural gas.  The price, the cleanliness, the availability.  And I’m an old coal miner.  Forever we’ve seen coal declining.  We knew it was on its way out.”