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h snow that rise up along the remote Montana Wyoming border. Yet for Mike Cooley, the days of drilling explosives into the ground to blast the fuel from the earth are over, long before he ever expected. The 41 year old thought his job as a "powderman" at the Decker strip mine would take him into retirement. Now he looking for new work, after 59 miners were laid off from Decker in recent weeks to add to several hundred jobs reported lost in the past year from the nation largest coal producing region. and putting some of the small towns in coal country in economic peril. Wringing his callused, idle hands and staring into the winter sun through the kitchen window of his trailer house in Sheridan, not far from the mine, Cooley said he reluctant to leave with the eldest of his three children poised to Vans Shoes White graduate high school this spring.

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"But I don want to go back to pounding nails either, not at $13 an hour," the former construction worker said as his youngest child, 2 year old Mason, hovered nearby, sucking on a lollipop. coal industry. Massive strip mines, carved from a landscape dominated by sagebrush and cattle ranches, churn out close to a half million tons of the fuel annually, dwarfing production from mines in Appalachia and the Midwest. Now the depressed domestic coal market is finally catching up to mines such as Decker. At least 300 jobs have been lost from mines in Montana and Wyoming since early 2012, according to preliminary data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

global coal markets enjoy a heyday. Driven by Asian demand, experts say, coal is projected to challenge oil as the world top energy source within the next four years. The Decker layoffs cut the mine work force Vans Chukka Low Grey

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Paradoxically, out of work miners in Montana and Wyoming are scrambling for new employment even as Vans High Cut All Black

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years sat comfortably near the top of the region resource based economy. Just last year, Decker co owner, Ambre Energ.

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roughly in half and came as a shock to Cooley and fellow miners who earned almost $30 an hour and for Vans Checkerboard Old Skool

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