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Before coal became the villain, it helped build Washington cities

BLACK DIAMOND, Wash. – Environmentalists are clear in their disagreement with President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the worldwide Paris climate agreement.

Trump said the withdrawal will save coal industry jobs in the United States.

Much of Washington and all Western states were founded on the back of the coal industry. It fueled railroad trains that brought people to our area and supported thousands of jobs to create small towns across Washington.

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“They had more people in Black Diamond than they did in the city of Seattle,” said former coal miner Gomer Evans.

In old black-and-white photos can be seen the bustling, vibrant mining town of Black Diamond, Washington.

“That’s what made Black Diamond. Without that big mine down there, we’d be the wide spot in the road here,” Evans said.

The Black Diamond Historical Society preserves the nostalgia of the town in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Evans, 89, shows us his parents’ wedding photo on display -- Welsh immigrants who met and married in Black Diamond as Gomer’s father worked in the mines, like everyone else.

“Your dad’s working in the coal mine. His dad’s working in the coal mine,” said Gomer.

With thousands of miners came stores, schools, houses, hotels, taverns, and a show hall.

It all ended in the 1930s when the Great Depression hit and the coal industry shut down.

“As oil came in, they were selling it for 5 or 10 cents a gallon ... It was so much easier, you just put it in a tank and it burned a lot cleaner, and coal started going downhill. People stopped buying it,” said Gomer.

In 2014, a renewed push to bring back that industry and the jobs that come with it failed after a public outcry.

“They’re talking about blasting coal,” said Alex Epstein, an environmental activist with the progressive organization Fuse. “The impacts on our air and our water is severe, not to mention the impacts on our health.”

The glory days of the coal industry in Black Diamond are now over.

Black Diamond Antique Store still sits in an old building and has memorabilia from that time.  It’s all something Gomer has come to terms with, including the science against coal.

“We understand there is harm in the coal and we’ve got this climate change thing, I guess we have to change with it,” said Gomer.

While Trump wants to keep coal jobs, Gomer says he wants the industry to reinvent itself.

“We just have to work with the coal industry to see if they can come up with a cleaner burning coal. There’s a lot of energy just sitting there,” said Gomer.

Gomer says he hopes as the nation moves toward other energy sources, people still remember the booming days of the coal industry and the 1,100 miners who lost their lives in Washington mines.