FAYETTE COUNTY, W.Va.—John Hickman was filling out a coal production report about 2½ miles deep in a mountain when his foreman’s voice came over the intercom.
“Stop mining,” the foreman instructed. “Bring the men out.”
It took nearly two hours for Mr. Hickman, a supervisor, and his workers to reach the mouth of the mine last September. There, they were given news they feared: Murray Energy Corp., one of the largest U.S. coal producers, was idling the Maple Eagle No. 1 mine, effective immediately.
“It’s just a level of stress that sets in,” said Mr. Hickman, who has been laid off before. “What am I going to do? Where am I going to find a job? How am I going to take care of my family? All of those things just keep cycling.”
President Trump hasn’t been able to bring back “beautiful, clean coal” as he promised four years ago. As mines and power plants continue to close, the question many are asking in the diminishing American coal industry is—what now?