John Oliver dug into Donald Trump’s campaign promise that coal miners would be “working their asses off” once he was elected. But after doing some deep tunneling of his own, all Oliver found was “bullshit,” he says.
Turns out, coal miners are still getting the short end, while industry executives are spinning Trump’s coal promises into gold.
Trump’s coal claims during the election were widely ridiculed at the time for being unrealistic. But to coal miners, they provided some hope– even if it was a false hope.
The sad fact is the coal industry has been in precipitous decline for decades.
Coal miners have been out-priced by cleaner burning natural gas, replaced by automation and to a lesser extent, hurt by government regulations. Mostly, they restrict the use of dirty-burning coal and protect the health and safety of the miners themselves.
Trump can’t do anything about the first two, but he appointed a coal industry executive, Scott Pruitt to head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and set about ripping up government rules and regulations.
So far, the administration has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord–citing coal as a reason–opened up public lands to strip mining and allowed coal companies to dump toxic waste into streams, Oliver noted.
But that does little for coal miners and a whole lot for coal companies and their executives, who are more focused on profits rather than the health and safety of their workers.
In fact, the majority of coal jobs have been lost to automation and strip mining, which is far cheaper than digging coal from a deep mine, which employs the most workers.
As one miner said, a coal company can now “take the side off a mountain” with 12 men running machines.
But that’s not the picture the administration is portraying.
Pruitt claimed the coal industry had created 50,000 jobs since the fourth quarter of 2016. “In the month of May alone, almost 7,000 jobs,” he said.
“The only problem is those numbers are bullshit,” said Oliver.
The figures were disputed by Trump’s own administration. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks the economy, reported that only 1,300 coal jobs have been created so far this year.
Trump’s focus on coal is puzzling for one big reason.
The industry only employs 76,000 people, a little over half as much as JCPenney. The retailer is about to declare bankruptcy and put 114,000 people out of work.
No word about that from Trump.
Unlike the national retailer, however, most coal miners are concentrated in Kentucky and West Virginia, which have been hard hit by the industry’s decline.
The fact is coal mining jobs have been evaporating since the 1950s, when the industry employed nearly 1 million workers.
Back then, coal was widely used to power steam locomotives, make steel, generate electricity and heat millions of homes.
But, one-by-one, technological innovations and other fuel sources have narrowed its market. And, the trend continues.
Clean energy–wind, solar and geothermal power–are becoming increasingly competitive and do no harm to the environment.
So the best solution for coal miners is to retrain for 21st century jobs. But that’s proving difficult.
Trump’s budget slashes funds for organizations like the Appalachian Regional Commission, which provides programs to re-train coal miners.
Oliver also questioned just how much coal companies are committed to their workers.
He cited the actions of outspoken Murray Coal Co. executive Bob Murray as one example.
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