It was a ridiculous photo op. The President standing next to piles of white paper stacked seven feet high.
“Regulations — oh, boy. It’s a lot of regulations,” Trump said.
Next to the tall stacks were a few piles of paper only one foot high. The giant stack had a red label marked “TODAY” and the small stack’s label was “1960.” Trump proclaimed:
“In 1960, there were approximately 20,000 pages in the Code of Federal Regulations. Today, there are over 185,000 pages. …We’re going to cut a ribbon because we’re getting back below the 1960-level, and we’ll be there fairly quickly.”
Oh yes, the good old days. 1960, the year when 325 coal miners were killed on the job (compared to 8 deaths last year). A time when there were 20 deaths in motor vehicle crashes per 100,000 people (compared to 11 in 2015.) And the free market allowed industrial facilities to discharge chemical-laden waste into rivers and belch toxics from their smoke stacks.
Trump’s photo op to boast about “cutting the red tape of regulations” coincided with the release of his Administration’s semi-annual regulatory agenda. At the event, the President insisted he wants to “protect our workers, our safety, our health.” His plan however says otherwise. He invoked his love of coal and his success at ending “the war on coal.” But he doesn’t show any love for coal miners—particularly for their health—-in his regulatory plan.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), for example, will be revisiting a regulation put in place in 2014 to better protect coal miners from developing black lung disease. The rule took full effect in August 2016. Trump’s Labor Department says it soon will be asking the coal industry for ideas on ways to make the coal-dust reduction rules less burdensome and costly. Among other things, this likely means reducing the frequency of air monitoring which helps to assess whether dust control methods are working properly.
The President’s regulatory plan also runs counter to what I heard from MSHA chief David Zatezalo at his confirmation. He told Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA):
“Silicosis is not an acceptable thing for our [miners.]”
Zatezalo indicated that new rules may be necessary to protect miners from respirable silica dust:
“I figure we’re going to have to go some engineering type controls, and really increase ventilation, and really increase water to be able to control it.”
Hearing that, I thought Zatezalo was serious about tackling the epidemic of lung disease among coal miners. But the Labor Department’s regulatory agenda for MSHA lists respirable silica as a topic for “long-term action.” The due date for a next step is labeled: “undetermined.”
I thought President Trump’s crush on coal miners would extend to David Zatezalo. I thought the MSHA chief would have been able to influence the White House. To make the White House live up to the President’s professions of love for coal miners. I hoped that love would translate into defense of the coal dust rules and action on new rules to address silica dust.
I was wrong.