The Trump administration is barreling ahead with a business-friendly coal mining agenda, even while deaths in U.S. mines have surged and without naming anyone to the top mine safety post.
The Trump administration is pushing a coal mining agenda that they disingenuously claim will do right by the industry by reversing a number of Obama-era regulations and restrictions.
But what they may actually be doing is creating greater peril and higher loss of life.
As the Associated Press reports, deaths in coal mines in the United States have increased markedly in 2017, with ten workers having died on the job so far this year, compared to eight in all of 2016.
And while the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration is responding to the deaths with an increased focus on training workers in safety techniques, the agency's top safety post has been left vacant by Donald Trump since January.
Patricia Silvey, a deputy assistant secretary at the agency, says that vacancy has not hindered their efforts.
But neglecting to fill a key post charged with protecting coal miners while deaths in mines are surging cannot possibly be helpful, and adds further proof that Trump's coal agenda is aimed at big business and wealthy owners, not at the men and women doing the dangerous work down in the mines.
And the miners' union, United Mine Workers of America, has made it clear that the agency's efforts are insufficient.
Because the inspectors sent out by the agency are not permitted to actually punish a mine for safety violations, union president Cecil Roberts wrote to the agency, it "takes away the one and only enforcement power the inspector and the agency has."
Considering that the lack of enforcement has led to — and likely will continue to lead to — deaths of mine workers, it would seem crucial for the federal government to correct such a dangerous issue.
Yet the Trump administration seems set on pushing ahead with an agenda that centers mine owners rather than the workers.
As the New York Times notes, many mining executives were displeased with former President Barack Obama's regulations, and particularly with the efforts of former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to enforce the rules and implement policies with workers and the environment in mind.
Richard Reavey, the head of government relations for strip mining company Cloud Peak Energy, insisted that the Obama administration was "in collusion with the environmentalists," and that their goal was to drive coal companies out of business.
In a bizarre twist, Reavey compared the coal industry to that of tobacco, stating that companies like his could end up facing the same fate of tobacco companies due to, in the Times' wording, "liberal conspiracy of environmental groups, news organizations and regulators."
Citing the tobacco industry — which is responsible for millions of wholly avoidable deaths each year, and which has been infamous for decades for their devious and repugnant tactics to obscure that fact — as some kind of poor, downtrodden victim of business-loathing liberals is not likely to win over many hearts and minds.
Though complaining about profit loss, when those profits are made on the backs and lives of those far below the corporate offices, certainly aligns coal executives like Reavey with the inhumane tobacco industry.
And if those who benefit financially from the toil and risk of workers are supportive of the Trump administration's plans, that ought to give anyone who cares about human rights and the environment serious pause.
Further, the fact that current Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is also a close ally of the coal industry, while hardly surprising in this administration, adds even more proof that tearing down regulations and boosting coal companies' power is aimed at pleasing those at the top, not serving those at the bottom.