President Donald Trump repeated one of his favorite lines at Thursday night’s rally in Huntington, West Virginia, when he told the audience that “we are putting our coal miners back to work.”
While the sector indeed has added about 800 coal mining jobs since Trump took office, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), those jobs are far fewer than what he has claimed and are not a result of his policies. The biggest increases were seen at mines that produce metallurgical coal, which has been in strong demand from overseas markets.
In a July speech touting his “Made in America” agenda, Trump falsely claimed that 45,000 coal mining jobs had been added since January. In June, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt made a similarly misleading claim when he said, “Since the fourth quarter of last year until most recently, we’ve added almost 50,000 jobs in the coal sector.”
In fact, at the time of Pruitt’s speech, 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 data from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Trump used his West Virginia campaign-style speech to lay out his vision for immigration, explaining that he wants to limit the entry of immigrants who are lower-skilled and who do not speak English.
The growth of West Virginia into a coal production powerhouse in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, could not have happened without the help of lower-skilled, non-English speaking immigrants. Thousands of destitute Central, Eastern, and Southern European immigrants traveled in the thousands to work in West Virginia’s coalfields, many of them recruited to the state by coal companies.
Immigrants who worked in southern West Virginia’s coalfields were composed of 25 nationalities, including Italians, Hungarians, Poles, Austrians, and Russians, almost all of whom did not speak English when they first arrived in the state.
In his speech, Trump proclaimed his administration has “ended the war on beautiful, clean coal” by stopping “EPA intrusion.” Trump failed to mention how market forces have contributed to the decrease of coal’s market share in power generation.
Energy experts have almost uniformly rejected the feasibility of Trump’s promise to revitalize the coal industry. Utilities have said that his administration has done little to change their shift away from coal and toward cheaper sources of power like natural gas, or cleaner sources of power like wind and solar.
At the rally, Trump correctly stated that U.S. coal exports have jumped by 60 percent this year. In Europe and Asia, the growing demand for metallurgical coal, used in heavy industry, has been the key contributor to the increase. Nationwide, coal production declined 5.9 percent from the first quarter of 2017 to the second. Total coal production in the first half of 2017 was 14.7 percent higher than in the second quarter of 2016. Coal industry employment rose by only 0.5 percent in the second quarter compared to the first.
In the Appalachian region, jobs in Southern Appalachia increased by 79. The biggest gains in the second quarter came in Central Appalachia, where 330 coal jobs were added a result of a recent boost in demand for metallurgical coal, S&P Global Market Intelligence reported, citing U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data. Northern Appalachia mines reported 264 fewer coal jobs.
In Kentucky, another major coal-producing state, coal operators cut employment by a total of 200 jobs from April 1 through June 30 compared to the first quarter, or 3 percent, according to a report released Wednesday by the state Energy and Environment Cabinet.
On Thursday night, Trump was joined onstage by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who used the occasion to announce that he plans to return to the Republican Party. The two men have more in common than their dalliances with the Republican and Democratic parties. Both men inherited their wealth from their fathers. In 1993, Justice inherited his father’s $25 million Bluestone Industries, including its subsidiary Bluestone Coal Corporation, which operates coal mines in southern West Virginia.
In his campaign for governor as a Democrat in 2015, Justice won the endorsement of the United Mine Workers of America. Justice’s mining operations, though, are not squeaky clean. A mining operation owned by Justice was cited for six safety violations following the death of a worker in February, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
The recent safety violations are not the first for Justice’s mines; in fact, his mines have been cited 3,657 times by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. According to an NPR investigation, Justice’s mines also have worse-than-average safety records, with 147 injuries occurring at his mines in recent years. The same NPR investigation found that Justice’s mining companies owe $15 million in six states in unpaid taxes and mine safety penalties.