President Trump is heading to West Virginia coal country tonight to give the best-speech-ever-made to the largest crowd the state has ever seen. (Tickets can be purchased here if you happen to be in the neighborhood.) You may recall that Trump was just in West Virginia to give the best-speech-ever-made to the Boy Scouts. Being as he loves, loves, loves coal miners, I’m going out on a limb and predicting that he’ll talk about coal tonight, and how he’s already created thousand of jobs by ending the “war on coal.”
So before that happens, I’ve supplied a few actual facts to arm you with before settle in with your popcorn to watch this week’s best-speech-ever-given. (And let me know how it goes. Unfortunately, I have an appointment to trim my beard at that exact time.)
Deaths in coal mines have surged this year — already ten this year compared with eight all of last year — and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette describes how MSHA will be dealing with this problem. More enforcement? Don’t be silly. Just because aggressive enforcement over the past eight years led by Obama MSHA head Joe Main brought mine safety deaths down to a historic low doesn’t mean we should learn from that example. So, instead of sending MSHA inspectors in to do more inspections, MSHA will make them take off their badges and send them into hazardous mines “to observe and train miners new to a particular mine on safer working habits.”
Solution to spike in mine deaths: Send MSHA inspectors in the urge miners to be more careful.
What’s the reasoning behind this new strategy? According to an MSHA Press Release, almost all of the fatalities this year have been miners who are new to the mine they are working in, or new to the job they are working at. The solution, according to Trump’s MSHA? Send mine inspectors in, not to identify and cite unsafe conditions, but to help miner owners to improve their training programs and urge miners to be more careful.
The United Mine Workers note that MSHA inspectors who conduct such training visits will be barred from citing the mine, even if they spot any safety violations. “To take away the inspector’s right to issue a violation takes away the one and only enforcement power the inspector and the agency has,” union president Cecil Roberts wrote in a recent letter to the federal agency.
But by not issuing new regulations or enforcing the current laws, we’re saving jobs, right? The Donald and I had a furious debate about this issue earlier today:
I am continuing to get rid of costly and unnecessary regulations. Much work left to do but effect will be great! Business & jobs will grow.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 3, 2017
Regulations are protections for workers, communities & the earth. No evidence they harm job growth. Plenty of evidence that they save lives. t.co/xiDxTqLHde
— Jordan Barab (@jbarab) August 3, 2017
Twitter debates are one thing, but what are the facts? Has Trump’s war on regulation and enforcement brought back coal jobs, even at the price of a few miners’ lives?
I’m sure we’ll hear from the President tonight about how he’s already made American coal mining great again, how he’s ended the “war on coal” and brought back mining jobs by the thousands. No, by the tens of thousands. Last month, for example, Trump boasted:
“In Pennsylvania, two weeks ago, they opened a mine, the first mine that was opened in decades….Well, we picked up 45,000 mining jobs in a very short period of time,” Trump said during an event pegged to American manufacturing. “Everybody was saying, ‘Well, you won’t get any mining jobs,’ we picked up 45,000 mining jobs. Well, the miners are very happy with Trump and with Pence, and we’re very proud of that.”
45,000 new mining jobs! That would be great, considering that there are only there are currently only 50,800 coal mining jobs in the entire country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
U.S. coal production declined 5.9% from the first quarter of 2017 to the second as employment inched 0.5% higher in the same period.
Average coal mining employment increased by 258 jobs quarter-to-quarter, according to an S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis. After production growth in the last half of 2016, coal production drifted lower in the first half of 2017, though it remained about 14.7% higher than year-ago levels in the first half.
So, doing the math, that puts coal mine job increases at closer to 500 than 50,000. But what’s a few decimal points?
Seems that even the Donald and thousands of red hats can’t stand up to low gas prices, clean energy alternatives and aging coal plants. (Oh, and that new Pennsylvania mine that he’s taking credit for? Corsa Coal Company “said it decided in August to open the Acosta mine 60 miles south of Pittsburgh after a steel industry boom drove up prices for metallurgical coal.” That would be several months before Trump…)
And not to rain on his parade any more, but the ever-vigilant Ken Ward at the Charleston Gazette also has a list of things to remember about Trump and Coal. Noting the new non-enforcement policy and lack of growth in mining jobs that I mentioned above, Ward also warns that “the Labor Department is working out a settlement of an industry challenge to an important rule that toughened enforcement in the wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, and the recently announced regulatory agenda for the department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration delays or drops some key rulemaking initiatives.”
And finally, Ward warns us not to forget that
While the science continues to show serious environmental damage from coal-mining (and potentially grave threats to public health), the Trump administration is working hard to dismantle new standards aimed at reducing the impacts. Getting rid of the Interior Department’s stream protection rule wasn’t enough, though. Just this week, as the administration prepared for the president’s trip to West Virginia, Interior was touting a move to streamline processing of new mining permits.
So get ready to fact check his speech in real time. I’d suggest a drinking game, like a shot every time he says “jobs” or “war on coal,” but we’d all die of alcohol poisoning. Be safe.