Factcheck: Scott Pruitt and coal jobs

Pruitt EPA Coal Mine
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt visits a coal mine in Sycamore, Pa., in April 2017.

The Environmental Protection Agency head said that the “coal sector” added 7,000 jobs in May and “almost 50,000 jobs” since the fourth quarter of last year. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an increase of just 400 coal mining jobs in May and 1,300 since December.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made his remarks on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Host Chuck Todd played a clip of former Vice President Al Gore blaming the loss of coal jobs on technology and competition. Gore said “promising to re-create the 19th century is not a visionary strategy.”

Todd, June 4: Is he right that you guys are making a false promise, though, to some of these fossil-fuel industries?

 

Pruitt: Dead wrong. Because the numbers show exactly the opposite in fact since the fourth quarter of last year to most recently added almost 50,000 jobs in the coal sector. In the month of May alone, almost 7,000 jobs.

We asked the EPA where Pruitt got his data, but we did not receive a response.

We did find, however, that the Bureau of Labor Statistics had somewhat similar figures for all mining jobs in its June 2 press release for May employment data:

BLS, June 2: Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 138,000 in May, compared with an average monthly gain of 181,000 over the prior 12 months. In May, job gains occurred in health care and mining. (See table B-1.)

 

Employment in health care rose by 24,000 in May. Hospitals added 7,000 jobs over the month, and employment in ambulatory health care services continued to trend up (+13,000).

 

Job growth in health care has averaged 22,000 per month thus far in 2017, compared with an average monthly gain of 32,000 in 2016. Mining added 7,000 jobs in May. Employment in mining has risen by 47,000 since reaching a recent low point in October 2016, with most of the gain in support activities for mining.

Table B-1 shows an increase of 6,600 mining jobs, from 648,700 in April to 655,300 in May. But “mining” refers to gas, oil, metal ores, coal and nonmetallic mineral mining and quarrying. It also includes jobs created in a category called “support activities for mining.”

As for coal mining jobs, BLS says there were 51,000 jobs in May, up 400 from 50,600 jobs in April. Since December 2016, the number of coal jobs has increased by 1,300, according to the BLS.

The biggest increase in mining jobs was in the category of “support activities for mining.” There were 292,400 such support jobs in May, up 7,900 jobs from April. BLS could not tell us how many of those jobs were related to coal mining, as opposed to gas, oil, metal ores and nonmetallic minerals. We do know, however, that most of those jobs support the gas and oil industries. There were 211,700 support jobs for oil and gas operations in April, according to the BLS.

The American Coal Council, an industry trade group, estimates that there are “over 80,000 coal jobs” in the U.S., including support jobs. In an email, Terry Headley, a spokesman for the council, provided us a link to a report by the National Mining Association that showed there were 81,842 coal jobs in 2016. He said that figure includes support jobs, such as truck drivers, electricians, surveyors, mechanics and service technicians — explaining why it is higher than the BLS figure of 51,000.

We don’t know where Pruitt got his figures, but BLS data do not support his claim that the coal sector added 7,000 jobs in May and almost 50,000 since the fourth quarter of last year.

Update, June 6: In a June 6 interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Pruitt said (at the 1:57 mark): “[W]e’ve had a growing job market in the mining sector, including coal. We’ve had almost 50,000 jobs created since the fourth quarter last year in the mining sector, including coal.” He cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics as his source.

But the “almost 50,000” increase in mining jobs is not since the fourth quarter. In its June 2 release, BLS said: “Employment in mining has risen by 47,000 since reaching a recent low point in October 2016, with most of the gain in support activities for mining.” Plus, few of the 47,000 jobs were coal mining jobs. As we said, the BLS reports an increase of just 1,300 coal mining jobs since December. The rest of the mining jobs were created in gas, oil, metal ores, and nonmetallic mineral mining and quarrying, as well as support jobs in the mining sector. Most of the support jobs were for oil and gas operations, not coal mining.