Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 4, Episode 16 - Coal - full transcript

Donald Trump won coal country in the 2016 election in part by promising to do away with Obama era job killing regulations. But what is it that's really killing coal jobs and where is the most promising growth in the region.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -

Season IV
Episode 16

Welcome to Last Week Tonight.

I'm John Oliver.
Thank you for joining us.

It has been another
bewilderingly busy week:

Sessions testified, Trump seemingly
admitted he was under investigation,

Republican politicians
were shot at by an idiot,

a terrible verdict
in the Philando Castile trial

and no verdict
in the Bill Cosby one,

a case which supplied us with one
of the single weirdest moments.

After 12 hours at the courthouse
outside Philadelphia,

he yelled out his famous
Fat Albert catch phrase.

What are you doing ?

Shouting your character's catchphrase
while on trial is a bizarre choice.

If Renée Zellweger was
on trial for triple murder,

it would be strange for her to shout,
you had me at hello.

We had you when the blood in
the trunk turned out to be a DNA match.

You're going to jail
for a long time.

Let's not talk about Cosby.
But about a different terrible bill:

the American Health Care Act,
which answers the question:

what if a bus-stop ad for a personal
injury lawyer was a healthcare policy ?

This has been buried
by other news,

but Senate Republicans have been
quietly working on a new version.

A task complicated
by a surprising new critic.

Associated Press saying
that Trump told Senators

that the House bill is,
quote: "mean".

Yes, the President called
the bill "mean".

Presumably folded his arms,
stamped on the ground,

screamed til he tuckered himself out,
and fell asleep on the floor.

Nap it off, big guy.

That's a little hard to hear,
coming from a man who celebrated

that mean bill's passage
at a Rose Garden ceremony.

Perhaps he knows this bill
is incredibly unpopular.

One analysis found it doesn't enjoy
a plurality of support in any state.

Which is amazing ! You can't get
all 50 states to agree on anything.

You can only get 49 states
to admit that Delaware sucks.

And the holdout,
by the way: Minnesota.

They're just too nice
to admit the obvious !

Republican Senators say
their bill will be gentler.

But it is hard to know that,
very few people have seen it

and they're planning to bypass
the committee hearing,

limiting the amount of changes
that can be made.

They seem unprepared for
the pushback they've been getting.

Will we have a hearing
on the healthcare proposal ?

- Will we ?
- Yes.

We've already had one...

On the proposal you are planning
to bring to the floor of the Senate.

Will there be a hearing ?

Democrats have been invited
to participate in this process

and we are open
to all ideas and suggestions.

I don't know that there's
going to be another hearing,

but we've invited you...

That is pathetic.

He should not have lines fed to him
when he already looks like a...

Ventriloquist dummy of Mike Pence,
you fucking idiot.

A ventriloquist dummy
of Mike Pence, you fucking idiot.

Thank you, Juli.

But all this mystery and secrecy
has a real cost.

Insurers decide whether
to be part of the Obamacare exchanges

and the situation
is making things difficult.

Listen to a representative from
the Insurance Commissioners.

It comes down to the biggest
problem we have, uncertainty.

I think everybody will agree,
insurance hates uncertainty.

Yeah, of course. They like
consistency and predictability.

This is an industry where a duck has
been a spokesperson for 18 years.

That uncertainty is taking a toll.

Anthem pulled out of the Obamacare
marketplace in Ohio,

citing continual changes in federal
operations, rules and guidance.

That will happen when no one knows
what the law is even going to be.

One of the prime drivers of this chaos
seems oddly cavalier about that news

and also the prospect
of people losing coverage.

Yesterday we learned that the last
statewide insurer in Ohio is leaving.

Have you heard about that ?
That's it. Bye-bye, wave goodbye.

What a mess.

We need to remember that sentence.
Because those may be the exact words

that Trump uses one day as mushroom
cloud explodes across America:

Bye-bye, wave goodbye.
What a mess !

And now this.

And now, things people's
fathers used to say.

There are three things you never
change people's minds on:

politics, baseball and sex.

My dad used to say, at times in life,
it's important to call an ace, an ace.

My dad used to say, son,
don't look very far up the family tree.

There's some stuff
you don't need to see.

My dad said: if you
draw a circle and shut me out,

I'll draw a bigger circle
and shut you in.

My daddy used to say, it's Wednesday
all day long unless it rains.

I never did know what
would happen if it rained.

I guess it would just be
rainy Wednesday.

As my dad used to say,
them are the rules.

As my daddy used to say,
you gonn' have that.

You can't
tell the players without a program.

Congress is always in session.

There lies the body of Jonathan Gray,
who died defending his right of way.

As my dad used to say,
dogs don't bark at parked cars.

That is very profound.

Moving on. Our main story
tonight concerns coal.

Basically, cocaine
for Thomas the Tank Engine.

We heard a lot about coal this year,
particularly from President Trump.

A reason that we have this cautionary
Bible story in the White House

was his ability to connect with
mining communities in campaign,

even doing this in West Virginia.

Nice ! I'll put it on, right ?

let me stop you right there.

It is not easy watching someone
I doubt has done a day of hard labor

show how he thinks
coal mining works.

It's like watching
a four year old play store.

You hand them your duckie and
then you get cookies, ya idiot.

What that crowd remembered
was how Trump's speech ended.

We'll start winning and you
are going to be very proud,

and for those miners, you're
gonna be working your asses off !

Thank you, everybody.

You're gonna be working
your asses off ! Like that, right ?

Maybe some of this you'll do ?
Or maybe this ?

You're mimers, right ? You're
going back to the coal mimes ?

I don't know
what you people do.

Trump promising to bring back coal
jobs is undeniably potent.

To listen to his EPA administrator,
it's a promise he's keeping.

Since last, fourth quarter of last year
added 50 000 jobs in the coal sector.

In the month of May,
almost 7 000 jobs.

So the only problem there is
that those numbers are bullshit.

Bureau of Labor Statistics
says the number of coal jobs created

has been just 1 300.

So that 50 000 new jobs claim was off
by 48 700.

Which for this administration
is uncharacteristically accurate.

I'd just assumed that the figure
would be more like 12 mining jobs

and they're not actually jobs,
they're lobsters

and Trump didn't create them,

he just remembers 12 times
in his life that he saw a lobster.

Trump claims coal is a huge
priority for his White House.

Let's set aside tonight the fact that
it is environmentally catastrophic,

which we shouldn't,
because it is.

This President
doesn't care about that.

He pulled out of the Paris Agreement
citing coal,

lifted a freeze on new coal
leases on public lands

revoked a rule to limit companies
from dumping debris in local streams,

with miners behind him
both times.

If coal jobs are so important
to him, let's talk about them.

Let's begin with a number,
it is smaller than you might think.

While Trump has talked
about reviving the coal industry,

which employs 76 000 people,
retailer JC Penney,

on the verge of bankruptcy,
employs 114 000 alone.

For a start: I didn't even know that
JC Penney had employees anymore.

I thought anyone who walked
into a JC Penney was handed the keys

saying; here, see if you can
make it work, good luck !

76 000 coal workers
is less than you'd expect.

In areas where they are concentrated,
coal mines are central to community.

Some schools have miners as mascots
for their sports teams,

or even, they have
coal industry sponsored fairs

where kids make a variety of projects,
perhaps none as awesome as this one.

It's about a lump of coal
named Lumpy

on a journey to figure out what
he's gonna be and what he could be

when he "grows up".

I love that kid. And by the way
top-notch use of air quotes there.

You and I both know that
Lumpy is not going to "grow up".

Lumpy is going to live
a short life underground

until one day
his friends notice he's missing.

Where's Lumpy ? They'll say.
Has anyone seen Lumpy ?

They'll form search parties and
put posters up around town.

But, in their minds, they know
the truth. They've always known.

One day there's a knock at the door.
The news they've all been dreading.

Lumpy has been burned to death
in a horrifying ritual

alongside the entire Lump family.

This is why we don't name them !
Because then we get attached.

When coal jobs go away,
communities feel it,

because these jobs
are high-paying.

A coal miner can make
upwards of $80 000.

So that's not easy to replace.

The industry points much of the blame
for lost jobs at President Obama,

with one of the loudest voices
being this guy.

These are my employees.
I care for them deeply.

Barack Obama and his followers are
destroying segments of America.

Mr. Obama is an outlaw. I pray
every day that this man's incompetence

will be overcome, that his evil
agenda will be overcome.

When you have a 52-year-old coal miner
in your office crying

because you were forced
to lay him off,

that's what Obama has never
seen because he's never had a job.

What are you talking about ?
He had a job.

His job was destroying segments
of America with his evil incompetence

or his name was not
"Barick" Obama.

That man was Bob Murray,
the CEO of Murray Energy.

His claim that Obama's
regulations have been job killers

is worth taking a look at.

While coal mining jobs undoubtedly
did decline under Obama,

it's worth noting coal mining jobs
have also been declining for decades.

Look at that trend line.
Coal industry jobs declined

at the same rate as careers
in the Zeppelin industry

and babies named Adolf.

Some still exist ! There's just
not nearly as many of them anymore.

I'm not saying Obama's
regulations had no effect.

Researchers found
they had very little impact.

Studying the decline in expected
demand for coal from a decade ago,

they found that nearly half
of that drop was owing

to the drop in natural gas prices
and another 18 percent

was due to the growth in renewable
energy, like wind and solar.

No more dramatic evidence of coal
losing out to solar energy than this.

Work has begun to power
the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum

not by coal,
but by the sun.

This project will help save
at least 8 to 10 000 dollars

off of the energy costs
on this building.

Kentucky Coal Mining Museum
is now using solar energy.

It's like finding out
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

was brought to you
by Smash Mouth.

Even if consumption
wasn't declining,

companies would be cutting jobs, they
are replacing miners with machines.

You had all this mechanization
going on with people leaving,

but its come to the point now where
they dont do underground mining

if they can get away with it.

They do mountaintop removals
and surface mining.

You can mine
a whole mountainside.

I'm talking about a whole mountainside
within a year or two,

with around 7 to 12 people,
that's all you need.

Mining, like almost all industries,
is facing increased automation.

I say that well aware
that in five to ten years

I am probably going to be replaced
by a robotic English teakettle

that screams depressing
money stats at you.

The rise of alternative energies
is good thing for the earth as a whole.

As coal jobs go away,
new green jobs are opening up.

Which is true,
but not where coal miners live.

West Virginia and Kentucky rank near
the bottom in solar jobs per capita.

For the people who've faced layoffs,
the future can look bleak.

It's depressing when you have kids
and you go to work one day,

and they say:
"you don't work here no more".

You gotta go home and...

Face your family and say
you don't have the job.

That is devastating. It does not help
someone in his situation

to be told statistics by someone
like me, in a TV studio,

who doesn't have the skills or
muscle mass to be a miner

and who looks like the result
of a drunk threesome between

Chris Hayes, Austin Powers
and a potato.

I know that,
but the question is:

what does help someone
in that situation ?

Trump insists that he's helping miners
by reducing regulations on companies.

People conflate coal,
coal miners and coal companies

and imply that when you help one,
you help them all.

But they are not
all in the same boat,

although they may insist otherwise.

When the coal company
Alpha Natural Resources

filed for bankruptcy, their CEO
stressed how painful that was.

- Are more mine closures possible ?
- They are, unfortunately.

And for Crutchfield, that's clearly
the hardest part of it all.

When I asked him about this photo
displayed at Alpha headquarters,

a photo called "Daddy's hands",
emotions were hard to hold back.

That is the backbone of America.
And we have that photograph

just to remind everybody
who we serve.

That's a nice sentiment,
slightly undercut by the fact that,

Alpha asked its bankruptcy trustee
if it could

save $3 million by terminating
the health and life insurance benefits

of around 1 200 retirees,
seeking permission to pay bonuses

up to around $12 million to top
executives, including that guy.

Which is the sort of thing that
might make "Daddy's hands"

want to do
something like this.

You wouldn't really
blame them for that.

Coal CEOs constantly claim to workers
that it's "us against them".

Don Blankenship,
ex-CEO of Massey Energy,

once held a rally featuring Ted Nugent,
Hank Williams Jr.

and a rousing speech
from Blankenship himself.

The safety and health of coal miners
is my most important job.

I don't need politicians to tell me
that, and neither do you.

Okay, so, speech aside,
that's a hell of a look.

It takes a brave man to go for
half-Kerri Strug

and half-the 'time to make
the doughnuts" guy.

If you thought the presence of a man
who's been ejaculated on by a flag

was as upsetting as that rally could
get, guess who else was there ?

We believe in God, right ?
Faith ? Family ? Country ?

We believe America's a shining
city on a hill, right ?

We believe in freedom ?
How you doin', doc ?

There's a really hot looking chick
in the third row there.

I'll take you back stage to meet
Hank a little later if you want.

You wanna meet me later ?

What the fuck was that ?
In the course of his speech,

he referenced God, quoted Reagan
and engaged in sexual harassment.

That man really is FOX News.

Just a few months after his rally
against Washington's safety rules,

Blankenship's company had a massive
explosion, killing 29 miners.

Blankenship denies responsibility.
In the wake of that disaster,

he was sentenced to a year in prison
for conspiring to violate mine safety.

He just got out
and now has to rebuild his life,

with nothing but his estimated
golden parachute of $86 million.

That will help you
get back on your feet.

$86 million will help you get back
on anyone's feet.

You want to get back on Fred Astaire's
feet ? That's no problem.

For $86 million, grab a hacksaw,
we are digging up Fred !

Blankenship is lobbying
the Trump administration

to oppose more onerous criminal laws
for mine owners, saying

they "will not improve
mine safety".

I'd like to think Trump
would not listen to him.

he loves the miners so much.

But there's not much evidence of that.
What there is evidence of,

is his affection for mine CEOs.

His secretary of commerce
is Wilbur Ross,

who ran the company that had
the deadly Sago Mine disaster.

He's also close to that man
you saw earlier, Bob Murray,

who claims that Trump called him
to deliver a special message.

He said, tell your coal miners
I've got their back.

And then he said:
"I love you man".

Congratulations on that, Bob !
You're now in the very select group

that Donald Trump
has said "I love you" to,

along with, presumably,
the worst Baldwin,

exactly one of his two daughters
and the holloweyed business ghost

that greets him
in the mirror every morning.

And Murray illustrates the divide
that can exist between

a coal company's interests
and those of its workers.

I'll be careful, because,
when we contacted Murray Energy,

they sent us a letter
instructing us to

"cease and desist to defame, harass
or injure Mr. Murray or Murray Energy"

telling us: "failure to do so will
result in immediate litigation".

A "cease and desist" letter is
something we've never received.

Not even the nation of New Zealand
has sent us one,

and we wallaby-kick those "Iminim"
burglars in the balls every week.

I have to proceed with caution.
I'm not going to say, for instance,

that Bob Murray looks like
a geriatric Dr. Evil,

even though he clearly does.

Murray Energy has sued people.

Just last month they sued
the New York Times for libel.

They also sued everyone from
a contributor to the Huffington Post

to these two papers in Ohio.

Murray's current general counsel
told reporters that this paper

inflicted a potential economic loss of
"one billion dollars".

It's exactly what you'd expect
from a geriatric Dr. Evil.

Though Murray Energy insisted
that they only sue news outlets

"as a matter of last resort"
and "never to chill free speech",

they might pursue our damages
to the fullest extent of the law,

including to the level
of the Supreme Court of the US.

That would be a real mistake, we have
a relationship with those judges.

Fun fact: if you scratch Justice Alito
behind his ear, he pees on the floor.

That's true of the dog
and the man.

As we have been explicitly
told to "cease and desist",

let us do neither of those things
and let's talk about Bob Murray.

He often speaks on TV
in defense of coal workers.

But let's take a look at his actions.
Murray's company unsuccessfully sued

to block a rule aimed at reducing
miners' exposure to coal dust

that causes black lung,
a disease which killed as many

as 10 000 people
between 1995 and 2005.

Murray insisted the rule was illegal,
did nothing for miners, for health.

Last year, with the rule in effect,
government reports indicated

respirable dust levels
fell to historic lows.

If you even appear to be
on the same side as black lung,

you're on the wrong
fucking side.

That's the equivalent of watching
"My Girl" and rooting for the bees.

Some of Murray's employees
clashed with the company over safety.

Murray proposed a program where
miners could receive bonuses

based on the amount
of coal they extracted.

It was voted down by employees

who believed it would have an adverse
impact on safety in the mines.

The company did it anyway,
saying if workers didn't like it,

they could just write
"void" on their checks.

62 employees did just that,
with two going even further,

one returning a check for $11.58
by writing "kiss my ass, Bob" on it

and another taking a check
for $3.22 and writing:

"Eat shit, Bob."

Well-played, miners. Because you
could've sent that message on a cake

or you could have sent it on
a bear with a big stuffed heart,

but to write it
on your $3 bonus check ?

Well-played to you, sirs.

There was the deadly collapse at
the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah.

Murray attracted attention
for a bizarre press conference

in which he was making bold claims
about the cause of the accident.

This is the first major accident
I've ever had in one of my mines

in 20 years of being in existence,
the first major accident.

And this was caused
by an earthquake,

not something that Murray Energy,
or Utah American did,

or our employees
or our management.

So here is the interesting
thing about that:

to this day, Murray says
that the evidence proves

"he was correct that an earthquake
caused the collapse."

That was not the conclusion
of the government's investigation,

which found it was caused
by unauthorized practices

and there was no evidence that
an earthquake caused the collapse.

Murray does not want us talking
about the accident, saying:

"it was an incredibly
difficult time for the families".

Though he was unable to satisfy the
expectations of the family members,

he says "he showed them honesty,
sincerity and compassion".

According to a Department
of Labor investigation,

their pain was exacerbated
by Murray's behavior

while they waited
news of their loved ones.

All we heard was earthquake. We did
not want to hear about earthquakes

but wanted to know when we were
going to see our loved ones again.

Murray more than once yelled
at us when we asked questions.

Yelling at distraught families when
they ask questions is not okay.

It is barely okay
to do it with five year olds

and they ask
over 42 million questions a day.

"Why are birds ?" is not a question
I know the fucking answer to.

Google it !

And there is one more Bob Murray
story I'd like you to know about.

It's an apocryphal tale concerning
how the company began.

Union miners claim that Murray
used to tell them that

"he was sitting on his porch,
contemplating his future,"

"when he was approached by
a squirrel, who looked him in the eye"

"and said: Bob Murray, you should be
operating your very own mines."

We asked Murray's
company about that story

and they told us:
"it never occurred".

I actually believe Murray on that one.
I think deep down we all know,

if squirrels could talk, they
wouldn't be giving career advice.

They'd be listing their favorite nuts:
okay, let's go.

Acorns, chestnuts, walnuts,
almonds, cashews are good,

although of course
technically not a nut.

Brazil nuts not my favorite
but I wouldn't kick 'em out of bed.

Do ya feel this ?

Back to jobs: Murray argues he provided
thousands to mining communities.

And for those communities, that
fact might outweigh everything else,

especially if Murray and Trump
can bring coal back.

Even Murray himself
is careful regarding that.

Can those jobs come back
if it's a Donald Trump presidency ?

I don't think they can come back.
But we can stop the destruction.

That's what I have told
Mr. Trump. And he gets it.

Hang on there, Bob, no he doesn't.
A, he barely gets what mining is.

He may think it's running up to things
that he wants and yelling "mine" !

That's possible.

And B, he's told miners they're
going to be working their asses off.

If Trump cares about miners,
he would be putting a plan in place

for their futures as mining
continues its long-term decline.

But he isn't doing that.

There are some small things
being done by others.

Bit Source, in Kentucky, is hiring
miners as software programmers

and paying them
through their retraining.

I've learnt numerous code languages,
I've learnt CSS,

I've learnt PHP, HTML,
JavaScript, Twig and YAML.

That's impressive. I will ignore the
fact that "Twig & YAML" sounds like

a bootleg Russian DVD knockoff
of "Lilo & Stitch".

That program is encouraging,
but it won't suit everyone.

And at present, it only has
nine jobs for former miners.

Trump is actively hurting
the chances of other projects like it.

His budget proposes cutting funding for
the Appalachian Regional Commission,

which helps revitalize communities
affected by coal mining job losses,

by funding employment programs
that have helped Bit Source.

You might wonder: why would a guy
who says he loves miners do that ?

Read a Playboy interview from 1990,
where he said and I quote:

"if I had been the son of a coal miner,
I would have left the damn mines."

Most people don't have the imagination
or whatever to leave their mine.

They don't have it.

They certainly don't have
what Trump has, specifically,

inherited wealth and hair like
the wispy pubes of an aging Yeti.

Trump needs to stop lying
to coal miners. We all do.

Stop telling them that their jobs
are all coming back when they're not.

Stop telling them that coal is clean,
when it isn't.

Stop pretending that this isn't
an industry in the middle

of a difficult, painful,
albeit necessary transition.

An honest conversation about coal
and its miners needs to be had,

and we should neither cease
nor desist from having it.

Which reminds me: one more
thing here. Bob Murray.

I didn't really plan for so much
of this piece to be about you,

but you forced my hand
on that one.

I know that you are
probably going to sue me.

I stand by everything I said.
Although just to reiterate:

I do not think you claimed
a squirrel talked to you.

Even by your standard, that would be
a pretty ridiculous thing to say.

I believe that you have never been
spoken to by a squirrel.

Until, that is, tonight.

Look, Bob ! Look !

It's Mr. Nutterbutter, Bob !
Look, Bob, look !

- It's Mr. Nutterbutter ! Hi !
- Hi, John!

I understand that you have
a message for Bob Murray ?

- I do !
- Okay !

Hey, Bob ! Just wanted to say,
if you're planning on suing,

I do not have a billion dollars,

but I do have a check for
three acorns and eighteen cents !

- Very nice of you Mr. Nutterbutter.
- It is.

It's made out to "Eat Shit, Bob".
Memo line: "Kiss My Ass".

Thank you, Mr. Nutterbutter !

That's our show !
See you next week ! Good night !