Is new coal mine sign of industry's comeback or just a rare exception?

New mine signal coal comeback?
New mine signal coal comeback? 03:34

Just a week after President Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord, a new coal mine opened about 60 miles outside Pittsburgh.

While the new mine was in the works long before that decision, the president maintains the climate deal was unfair to America's coal industry.

CBS News' Don Dahler reports from the new mine in Acosta, Pennsylvania, with a look at whether it signals the start of a comeback for coal.

Far below ground, machines haul out a material called metallurgical coal. Unlike most mined coal, this won't be used for electricity but rather as an ingredient for making steel. For folks in Acosta, the rock represents hope. 

Bloomberg & Pope on climate change 07:03

"Did it feel for a while that this was a dying industry?" Dahler asked.

"Yes. Yes it did," said Rob Bottegal, general manager of engineering at Corsa Coal.

A bleak thought for a place where coal runs in the blood. 

Bottegal listened carefully to candidate Trump's promises on the campaign trail. 

"Oh I think it felt great because you know because it gave people a little more optimism and people had a little more hope in the industry," Bottegal said of Trump's campaign promise to revive the coal industry.

Corsa's new mine was already being developed before the election, but last week the president highlighted it as a rare, bright spot.

The coal industry has lost more than a third of its workforce over the past decade with 69 percent drop in the number of active mines in the past 20 years.

Miners on Trump 02:18

"It's hard for me to see that coal is going to recover its huge market share," said Jay Apt, co-director of the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center.

Apt says steel-producing coal represents just a tiny fraction of the overall industry, and won't move the needle on the bigger problem.

"Natural gas has eaten coal's market share. It's gone down from 50 percent to 30 percent. Those coal mines are unlikely to come back any time soon," said Apt.

"When did things get rough around here?" Dahler asked Coal Miners Café owner Betty Rhoads.

Rhoads said it started to get tough in Acosta, "In the 90s, maybe, when all the mines were shutting down, the steel mills were going out, and that's what the people worked here."

Since then, Rhoads hasn't had as many hungry mouths to feed at her café.

The new mine is only hiring 70 to 100 workers, but she's bracing for business to pick up.

"Everybody's hoping it's income to everybody," Rhoads said of the new mine.

Down in the mine, they're just happy to finally be moving forward. 

"You think this is the beginning of something?" Dahler asked.

"I hope so, yes. I think it will be," Bottegal said.

As of last month, 51,000 Americans worked in coal. So it came as a surprise recently when EPA administrator Scott Pruitt claimed the economy added 50,000 coal jobs. The industry has added jobs, but only about 1,000.