Congratulations, coal country voters! Donald Trump is about to play you for the useful idiots you are. Meet your new Trump administration Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross!
After campaigning as a champion of coal miners, Donald Trump is reportedly close to choosing for Commerce Secretary a New York billionaire who owned a West Virginia mine where a dozen miners were buried alive in 2006. Trump’s favored candidate, Wilbur Ross, also engineered buyouts that cost workers their benefits, and their jobs. It’s a striking choice, considering Trump’s promises to improve the lives of coal miners and other working-class Americans.
Ross made his money collecting “distressed assets”—failing steel and textile mills in the midwest and south, and coal mines in Appalachia. Dubbed the “The King of Bankruptcy,” Ross cut jobs, wages, pensions, and health benefits at the companies he acquired, and reaped the profits. In the early 2000s, Ross’s foray into the steel industry netted him a $267 million personal windfall, but stripped health care benefits from more than 150,000 retired steelworkers. Then he moved on to the coal industry, at one point controlling as much as $1.2 billion in coal assets through his company, the International Coal Group.
That's right, Trump is about to make the guy who took health benefits away from a hundred and fifty thousand steel workers the head of America's business strategy. And if the name Wilbur Ross sounds familiar, it should. Especially in West Virginia.
One of ICG’s acquisitions in West Virginia was the Sago Mine, about 100 miles east of Charleston. The mine, a non-union operation, racked up a slew of safety violations from federal inspectors—more than 208 in 2005 alone. That year, the roof of the mine collapsed twenty times. Workers at Sago were injured three times as often as workers in similar mines elsewhere. Though Ross claimed not to be part of operating management at Sago, he admitted later that he was aware of the violations, and waved them away.
Then, early one January morning, methane ignited deep in the mineshaft. The explosion instantly killed one miner and stranded a dozen others about two miles from the mouth of the mine, in a passageway filled with carbon monoxide. It was more than an hour before company managers called for help, and four hours until a rescue team arrived. Nearly two days later, when they finally reached the trapped miners, all but one had died. Ross and ICG set up a $2 million compensation fund for the families of the deceased—an amount, critics pointed out, that paled in comparison to Ross’s immense personal wealth. (Trump contributed $25,000 to that fund.)
So the guy who overlooked safety violations that cause the Sago mine disaster ten years ago is now going to be overseeing the Commerce Department...you know, the guys in charge of, among other bureaus...NOAA.
Coal mine owner in charge of weather and climate science in America.
Nice knowing you.