|Mine Service says EPA damaging business|
|Monday, 28 January 2013 15:43|
But a national push to move away from coal is having some drastic effects on one Black Hills business. Just across the Custer County line a faded sign identifies the home of Western Mine Service of South Dakota. Starting up a little more than six years ago, Jim Freyensee's business made front page news. With the coal mining industry booming in nearby Wyoming, Freyensee had what seemed to be a perfect business plan. He assembled a team of welders in South Dakota who could service the massive parts and machinery used in the coal mines of Wyoming. Freyensee says, "It was working out great, I mean nobody wanted to leave South Dakota to go work in a coal mine in Gillette, but now everything is being cut back. Freyensee first noticed changes about a year ago, shortly after the Environmental Protection Agency announced proposals regarding Mercury and Toxics Standards. According to the EPA, the proposals come under the authority of the Clean Air Act set in place in the late 90s, and are still under review. A June report released by the not-for-profit Institute for Energy Research estimates the new EPA regulations would retire enough coal-fired power plants to shutter more than 10 percent of the country's coal-fired generating capacity. This means a move away from coal. A move that directly affects Freyensee. Freyensee says, "As the coal-fired plants shut down, so do the coal mines, and back in Appalachia, there's been eight coal mines shuttin' down and it's working its way west right now." Based on these trends and industry predictions, Freyensee says he knew his business would take a hit. So far, he's never laid an employee off, but once a spot is vacated, he doesn't look to replace it. Freyensee says, "He was one of the few that left us, because he was single, went over to Gillette and he's working in the mines and he's probably making $30 per hour in the mines right now." Starting at 25, Freyensee now employs eight. Mines are still open, and work is still available, but it's not nearly the business it used to be. Freyensee says, "It's sad, I mean we were bringing in from Wyoming in income over $2.5 million a year that was helping the economy in South Dakota." Now, it's a struggle. Freyensee says he has looked to the North and the oil boom going on in North Dakota but oil business isn't coal business. Freyensee says, "If I had to rely on North Dakota, I'd probably have to shut down, but right now we're getting a little bit out of North Dakota and just a little bit out of the mines in Gillette." It's not enough though, Freyensee has started to look for part-time work. Walking through the hallways of his struggling business, he reflects on pictures detailing the company's heyday just a few years ago. Meanwhile today, his workshop sits empty. Reporter asks, "How long can you keep going like this?" Freyensee says, "That's a tough one, there is still some coal mining going on and we're cutting back, I stopped taking a salary just to keep these guys going, there's a little work coming out of the coal mines in Gillette, it's just a month-to-month thing." Freyensee says he'll continue to advocate for the EPA to take a more lax stance on coal, especially since it's burned with far fewer regulations in other countries. He says if nothing changes, he may soon have to cut his staff down to five.