In late March, President Donald Trump found himself surrounded by a group of Cabinet members and coal miners. This bizarre mélange of multimillionaire businessmen in thousand-dollar suits and blue-collar workers in short-sleeve shirts had gathered to witness the president sign an executive order lifting rules imposed against the coal industry by the Obama administration. Gone were a temporary ban on mining coal on public lands and the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule, a regulation designed to protect streams from the dumping of coal-mining waste.
“I made them this promise,” Trump remarked, scribbling his EKG-like signature and mugging for the cameras, “we will put our miners back to work.”
On Sunday’s edition of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver dedicated his main story to Trump’s empty promises to coal miners, with the comedian citing the New York City real-estate mogul’s ability to connect with the coal-mining community as “a key reason that we have this cautionary Bible story in the White House.”
Oliver threw to a clip of Trump at a rally in Charleston, West Virginia, that saw Trump, the heir to a multimillion-dollar real-estate empire who until recently lived in a gold penthouse overlooking Manhattan, awkwardly placing a coal-mining helmet on his head before mimicking digging up a shovelful of coal (this, by the way, is a man who by most accounts lied about cleaning up rubble at ground zero in the days after the 9/11 terror attacks). Then-candidate Trump ended his speech by saying, “We’ll start winning, wining winning, and you are going to be very proud. And for those miners, get ready, because you are going to be working your asses off.”
“It is not easy watching someone I doubt has done a day of hard labor in his life show how he thinks coal mining works,” cracked Oliver.
The next clip was of Scott Pruit, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press and claimed, “Since the fourth quarter of last year to most recently, [we] added almost 50,000 jobs in the coal sector. In the month of May alone, almost 7,000 jobs.”
“OK, so the only problem there is that those numbers are bullshit,” said Oliver, who cited a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from June stating that the actual increase in coal jobs since 2016 was around 1,300, including just 400 jobs added in May. Furthermore, the data indicated that added jobs in the final five months of the Obama administration were actually larger than the first five months of the Trump administration: 1,400 vs. 1,300.
The disturbing reality—one that various experts and even coal-mining CEOs, including outspoken Trump supporter Bob Murray of Murray Energy Corp., have acknowledged—is that the coal-mining jobs lost are not coming back due to a variety of factors such as automation, the rise of alternative energies, the declining price of gas, the increased use of natural gas, you name it. Also, while the coal industry being in decline is a big problem, it should be noted that there are about 76,000 coal jobs in America total. An area hurting far worse than coal is the retail sector, which has been shedding jobs at a recession-level pace at a clip of about 30,000 a month in 2017. J.C. Penney, which is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, employs approximately 114,000 people—38,000 more than coal.
There is also the matter of the environment and the devastation wreaked on it by the coal industry. Those Obama-era protections that Trump lifted with his executive order were aimed at safeguarding the environment from coal-related damage, including the pollution of streams.
“This president clearly doesn’t care about [the environment],“ Oliver said. “He pulled out of the Paris agreement, citing coal as one of the reasons; he’s lifted a freeze on new coal leases on public lands; and revoked a rule to limit coal-mining companies from dropping debris into local streams, with miners behind him both times.”
For “a sense of how [Trump] really feels” about the coal industry, Oliver pulled up a 1990 interview Trump conducted with Playboy. In it, Trump said, “If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don’t have the imagination—or whatever—to leave their mine. They don’t have ‘it.’”
They don’t have it.
“And you know what? They certainly don’t have what Trump has, specifically inherited wealth and hair like the wispy pubes of an aging yeti,” joked Oliver.
“But the point here is: Trump needs to stop lying to coal miners. We all do,” he continued. “Stop telling them that their jobs are all coming back when they’re not. Stop telling them that coal is clean when it isn’t. And stop pretending that this isn’t an industry in the middle of a painful—albeit necessary—transition. An honest conversation about coal and its miners needs to be had, and we should neither cease nor desist from having it.”