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For the first time, Carbon County isn't producing any coal

Posted at 4:22 PM, Sep 14, 2023

PRICE, Utah — Among the regular customers at The Coyotes Well coffee truck are coal miners.

"My dad was a coal miner for 20-plus years raising me," said Ryan Madsen, the truck's owner. "It's just kind of been a thing in my family for generations and generations and my generation, me and my cousins, we’re the first ones so far that haven’t done that yet."

Coal remains a top industry in Carbon County. But for the first time in state history, coal is no longer actively being produced in the county it's named for. That's according to a new report by the Utah Geological Survey prepared for Governor Spencer Cox's administration on mining in Utah. The last active mine, Dugout Canyon, shut down in 2019.

"Carbon County has a long history of coal production in Utah, but there’s lower and lower coal demand over the last several years," Mike Vanden Berg, energy and minerals program manager for the Utah Geological Survey, told FOX 13 News. "The mines in Carbon County were some of them that had to close. Recently, there’s been an increase in coal demand but now the problem is finding people to work in the mines."

Vanden Berg said there are as many as 250 job openings right now for miners. The miners who live and work in Carbon County travel to neighboring Emery and Sanpete counties to work in the coal mines there.

"It's hard, it's shocking," said Shanny Wilson, Carbon County's Economic Development and Tourism director, said of the notion of Carbon County no longer producing coal.

The impact of it is spilling over to residences, she said.

"Because of this shift, the tax that used to be paid by the infrastructure, by the operating mines has now been shifted to the homeowner. So that’s been a little bit of a challenge for Carbon County," Wilson said.

Carbon County leaders have also put increased emphasis on diversifying their economy away from a single industry and luring in new businesses. It's been a priority pushed by Gov. Cox as a way to boost rural Utah's economy (as well as an "all of the above" approach to energy).

"We’ve got tourism coming here, we've got a lot of great things happening and those things are going to help sell what we have to these companies so they might invest in coming here," Wilson told FOX 13 News on Thursday.

Between Price and Wellington, land has been identified for manufacturers or other industries to set up shop. And there are some promising leads. The county is actively engaged in talks with several companies to relocate to the Price area and bring with them dozens of jobs each.

"It gives me hope that at least one if not all will start breaking ground and bring in new industry, bring in new jobs," Wilson said.

Whether the mines will ever reopen in Carbon County remains to be seen. Some in the communities do not see a long-term future for it.

"The long term prospects for coal mining look a little bleak," said Vanden Berg.

But he added a new coal mine has been permitted in the area and is looking to ramp up its own production.

Madsen said she is certainly in favor of diversifying Carbon County's economy, but wants to ensure they don't forget miners.

"You can’t just take somebody who’s worked in the coal mine for 30 years and say 'Sorry, go to school.' It’s not very fair," she said. "So I think that we just need to think about them as we move forward."