Pruitt Doubles Down On Big Coal Lie With 'Pruitt Math'

Trump has made a high-stakes and deceptive pledge to bring jobs back to coal country.

06/05/2017 03:49 pm ET Updated Jun 06, 2017

When Pruitt gave the same lie to three separate networks (Fox, ABC and NBC) on Sunday, claiming that 50,000 new coal jobs had been created since the fourth quarter of 2016 (and 7,000 new coal industry jobs in May alone), I quickly posted a fact check on HuffPost. Pruitt earned a “Four Smokestack” rating — reserved for lies that are both deliberate and dangerous. The only question at all was on whether or not it was deliberate or a product of Pruitt not knowing what he was talking about (or a little of both). He gave the same talking point in three interviews, so the idea that it was a slip of the tongue is out the window.

Now, Pruitt’s spokeswoman Amy Graham has told reporters that Pruitt was referring to all mining, not just coal mining, in making his case about why Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accord. But this statement is also false. Here is Taylor Kuykendall of S&P Global Market Intelligence Report (paywall), reporting on Graham’s June 5 statement:

An EPA official told S&P Global Market Intelligence that Pruitt’s claim on NBC’s “Meet the Press” was referencing the broader mining sector and was quoting statistics from a June 2 jobs report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS. The report noted that the entire mining sector added 7,000 jobs in May — not just the coal sector as Pruitt appeared to claim.

OK, so let’s call this the “Pruitt Math” defense — if the numbers don’t provide the message he wants, he can just add in other stuff until he can say what he wants to say.

There is no boom in mining jobs. Here are the facts:

  • In May 2017, the US added 138,000 non-farm jobs. The coal mining industry jobs increased by 400. The mining sector as a whole lost 1,900 jobs. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, ”The Employment Situation, - May 2017”, p. 28, “Table B-1. Employees on nonfarm payrolls by industry sector and selected industry detail”)
  • In 2016, one out of every 50 jobs created was in solar energy — far outpacing the slight increase we are seeing in coal jobs today. From the 4th quarter of last year, the coal industry has accounted for two-tenths of one percent of overall US job growth (adding 2,400 jobs). As a whole, mining industry jobs have increased by 4,400 over the same time period (September 2016 thru May 2017).
Environmental Defense Fund

What’s Going On?

President Trump has made a high-stakes and deceptive pledge to bring jobs back in coal country. The pressure to make his boss look good probably weighs heavily on Pruitt after he convinced the president to withdraw from the Paris climate treaty.

At this stage, Pruitt is trying to shift the blame to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is ridiculous. The question is not what BLS said, it is what Pruitt said, whether it is true, and why he misrepresented it.

Nevertheless, Pruitt’s staff are trying to deflect media interest by confusing them with a false trail, so here is an explanation: The shortest versions of the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) jobs report lumps coal mining, other mining and oil and gas jobs together under a single category: “NAICS 21, Mining, Quarrying and Oil and Gas Extraction.” BLS sometimes lumps under the “mining” shorthand the same way that you might buy food or drinks from a gas station, and have it show up as “gas” on your credit card bill.

If the numbers don’t provide the message [Pruitt] wants, he can just add in other stuff until he can say what he wants to say.

It is true that there has been a rebound in jobs in the oil and gas industry during the later half of 2016 and continuing into 2017, which only makes sense as the industry was hit hard after oil fell under $30 per barrel in early 2016. But natural gas is a top competitor of coal for producing electricity, and a major reason for the decline in coal consumption. So claiming a boom in coal jobs because of a rebound in oil and gas jobs, which appears to be Pruitt’s defense, is like your boss claiming you got a raise based on the fact that your co-workers got raises.

The Washington Post’ Dino Grandoni, who also finds Pruitt’s numbers to be wrong, writes:

The surge of natural gas in the United States, spurred by the development of hydraulic-fracturing techniques that extract raw fuel from once economically unviable parts of the ground, have undercut coal as a go-to fuel for generating electricity. It’s a story that’s been told over and over and over again

(Note: for data hounds and fact-checkers, I will quickly address a loose end from Grandoni’s story: 98% of jobs in the “support activities for mining” category were in the oil and gas sector, not coal mining, according to 2014 census data, so that does not explain any of the huge shortfall in Pruitt’s math).

Ignorant Or Deceitful?

In citing a BLS report improperly, Pruitt has left us to choose whether (1) he doesn’t have a clue about what he is talking about, or (2) he intentionally misled the public to plan a falsehood that will live on the internet long after the fact-checkers have come and gone. My conclusion is that it is a little of both. If there were any doubts, the attempt by Pruitt’s staff to deflect blame to the BLS rather than correct the record clearly has erased them.