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Trump's Coal Con is Killing Coal Miners

He used them for political gain and coal miner deaths are up under his leadership

Brian Young's picture
Sep 11, 2017

After just eight months in office, workers are already feeling the effects of Trump’s refusal to do his job. Nowhere has it been felt more than in coal country. With important mine safety jobs left unfilled, deaths have begun to spike in the coal industry, just as Trump promises to take action to ramp up mining.

So far in 2017, 12 miners have died matching the entire year’s total from 2015. In 2016, the safest year in over 20 years, saw only eight people die. The rise in fatalities comes as Trump is pushing for more coal jobs and more use of coal. With the increases in death and employment in the industry, there has never been a better time to make sure that mines are meeting the tough safety standards that have reduced the number of fatalities by over 800%, yet Trump has refused to appoint the people needed to protect these workers.

One of the vacant positions includes the Secretary of Mine Safety and Health Administration. Trump did not make an appointment to this position until August 22, when he appointed White House aide Wayne Palmer as the temporary secretary. United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President Cecil E. Roberts responded to this appointment by saying that Palmer has “absolutely no apparent experience in mine safety and health.” On September 2, Trump announced his intent to appoint a permanent head to the agency, former coal executive David Zatezalo. He was an executive with Rhino Resources when the company was investigated for a number of violations, negligence that caused a miner’s death, and allegations that the company interfered in mine safety inspections.

With an inexperienced political aide running MSHA until a former coal executive can be approved to take over, it is clear that safety is not one of Trump’s biggest priorities. Instead, the Trump administration has brought back the failed policy of George W. Bush called compliance assistance.  This is a program where instead of MSHA coming in to train, inspect and enforce penalties on violators, companies are instead encouraged to participate and share information with new miners. This means that not all new miners are given the proper safety training and enforcement takes a back seat, giving coal executives more freedom to violate safety laws. According to mine safety advocate Tony Oppegard, mine deaths always rise when MSHA de-emphasizes enforcement. UMWA agrees with this saying that they oppose compliance assistance and instead prefer MSHA’s training be given to all. Oppegard says that almost all mine accidents could be prevented with better training so the emphasis on safety training is probably leading to the increase in deaths. He notes that during the Bush years, when compliance assistance was last used, numerous mine disasters occurred including the Sago and Darby disasters that killed 17 people.

While Trump won the election by pandering to Coal Country, he has failed to deliver on many of his promises. As UCOMM has previously reported, the market is killing the coal industry. While coal executives are crying for a bailout, workers are dying thanks to Trump’s inability to fill important safety positions. Unless Trump can stand up to these coal interests and reinstate the successful safety programs that the Obama administration executed, deaths will continue to rise.


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