EPA chief exaggerates growth of coal jobs by tens of thousands

Coal mining jobs increased by only a few hundred during first three months of 2017.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to the media at the White House on June 2, 2017, about President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate agreement. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to the media at the White House on June 2, 2017, about President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate agreement. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt made the Sunday morning talk show rounds in an effort to defend President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate accord. Pruitt repeatedly argued the climate agreement would harm the U.S. economy, particularly coal industry jobs.

Pruitt make several misleading and inaccurate statements during his tour of the television networks. The EPA chief’s biggest fib was probably his statement, made on multiple shows on Sunday, that the coal industry has grown by 50,000 jobs over the last few months.

No data exists from government or industry sources to back up the claim that the industry has seen such a dramatic surge in coal mining jobs over this time period. In fact, the average number of coal mining jobs increased by only 586, or about 1.1 percent during the first three months of 2017, according to a report from S&P Global Market Intelligence, citing data from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Since the end of 2016, the number of coal industry jobs has remained relatively steady in almost all regions of the United States, except the Central Appalachia region. In this region, the number of coal mining jobs grew from slightly below 15,000 to slightly above that number from January to March.

Here’s another crucial piece of data that appears to undermine Pruitt’s statement that the coal industry has grown by 50,000 jobs since the end of 2016: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates there are currently a total of 51,000 jobs in the coal mining industry, almost equal to the number of employees Pruitt stated the industry had grown by over the last few months.

On Meet the Press, former Vice President Al Gore explained that the loss of coal jobs started with the mechanization of the coal industry decades ago. Furthermore, over the past half-dozen years, natural gas started to displace the use of coal for power generation, he said.

“Promising to re-create the 19th century is not a visionary strategy for a successful 21st century,” Gore stated.

“Dead wrong,” Pruitt said in response to Gore’s comments in his appearance on Meet the Press. The numbers show “exactly the opposite,” with almost 50,000 jobs added in the coal sector since the fourth quarter of 2016, he claimed. “In the month of May alone, almost 7,000 jobs,” the EPA chief said.

On ABC’s This Week, Pruitt told host George Stephanopoulos that the United States has “had over 50,000 jobs since last quarter — coal jobs, mining jobs — created in this country.”

The increase in coal industry-related jobs in Central Appalachia — where employment increased 5.9 percent from January to March — was likely due to a recent surge in metallurgical coal prices, according to experts.

New metallurgical coal mines are opening up that produce a special kind of coal used in steelmaking. But these mines are opening largely because of events unrelated to federal policy, NPR reported. Due to the closing of coal-fired power plants and natural gas lower prices, the market for the kind of coal used in electricity — the biggest use for coal — remains down relative to where it was several years ago.

Federal government numbers show that the U.S. electric power sector consumed 677 million short tons of coal in 2016, the lowest amount since 1984. Electric power sector coal consumption in 2016 accounted for more than 93 percent of all coal consumed in the United States, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in a report released Friday.

Electric power sector coal consumption in 2016 was 35 percent lower than in 2008, when U.S. coal production reached its highest level, the EIA said.

Since taking over as EPA administrator, Pruitt has stood up for the coal industry on several occasions. Pruitt visited a coal mine in Pennsylvania in April to introduce his agency’s “back-to-basics” agenda that would weaken the agency’s climate action and enforcement efforts.

Not everyone in coal country believes the Trump administration has their best interests at heart when seeking to implement policy. The Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail, in an editorial titledThe president’s betrayal of coal country,” noted that Trump vowed repeatedly on the campaign trail to “put our coal miners back to work” and “bring the coal industry back 100 percent.”

“However, President Trump’s proposed budget would cut the legs from under Appalachian coal communities, leaving them with little help as they try to weather market changes,” the editorial said. “It would eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission and withdraw $1.13 billion from various programs that try to rescue impoverished coal towns.”