(Gillette News Record, March 19) – U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi has a saying that he likes to use.
“A picture is worth a thousand words, but being on the ground is worth a thousand pictures.”
Enzi used that phrase as a reason why it was so important to have U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta tour one of Peabody’s coal mines as one of the first stops on a statewide tour for a member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet.
Enzi said after the tour that it was rare to have a secretary of labor from Washington, D.C., visit for more than a few hours.
“It’s also unusual because it’s not a visit to Jackson,” he said with a laugh.
Acosta agreed, saying that it’s important to him as secretary of labor to leave Washington to “meet the men and women who are building America.”
Energy jobs have seen an uptick in recent years and that has shown in increased sales tax dollars in Campbell County. Jobs in oil, natural gas and other fields also have rebounded since 2016, and Acosta said it’s important for that growth to continue.
He said smart deregulation, job site safety and promoting energy production on U.S. soil could continue that trend.
“We want to grow America,” he said. “We still get most of our energy from coal and we need to embrace that.”
Enzi said it’s important for top government officials to see with their own eyes the scope of what coal mines look like and how they operate in the Powder River Basin.
“It’s important to understand the miles we are dealing with, the few people that we have, the specialties we have developed and how important those are to supplying the rest of the nation with what they need,” Enzi said.
In 2018, Peabody’s three Powder River Basin mines — NARM, Rawhide and Caballo — produced more than 120 million tons of coal.
Acosta said it will be important for the country’s energy production to stay strong if the coal mined in the Powder River Basin is to stay profitable.
Acosta applauded Peabody and other Wyoming coal companies for continually having top safety records regarding workplace injuries and deaths.
“When it comes to mining, these folks work really hard (and) they make a great salary,” he said. “We need to focus on helping them continue to have jobs.”
Last week, the Associated Press reported that U.S. employers posted nearly 7.6 million open jobs in January, near a record high set in November, evidence that businesses are still hungry for workers despite signs the economy has slowed.
The Labor Department said Friday that hiring also rose and the number of people quitting their jobs picked up. Resignations are a sign of a healthy economy because people typically leave a job for another, usually higher-paying, one.
The tally of available jobs now outnumbers the unemployed by roughly 1 million. Openings began to outpace the unemployed last spring, for the first time in the 18 years the data has been tracked.
Acosta said those numbers are encouraging, but the challenge lies in finding skilled workers to fill those positions.
“We have more open jobs in this economy than we have individuals looking for jobs. That’s really incredible,” he said.
“There are people out there that want to hire. For the first time, the challenge is not, ‘Can the economy create open jobs?’ The challenge is, ‘Are we teaching the right skills to fill those jobs?’ That’s a great challenge to have,” he said.
In a flurry of tweets on Sunday and Monday, President Trump sent pressuring messages about General Motors closing down its plant in Ohio, saying GM had “let our Country down” by closing its Lordstown plant in politically important Ohio. The closure left 1,700 hourly workers jobless.
When asked about the position government plays in decisions private businesses make, Acosta only replied that the Department of Labor has been the second most deregulated department in the government since Trump took over and that the president is focused on “creating job opportunities.”
“Over the last two years, our economy has created over 5 million jobs,” Acosta said. “That’s incredible.”
Following the trip to NARM, Enzi and Acosta visited the Wyoming Contractors Association’s training facility near Casper.
The last time a member of Trump’s cabinet visited Campbell County was then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s visit to Arch Coal’s Black Thunder mine with Sen. John Barrasso in March 2017.
Pruitt resigned four months later amid ethics allegations.
Back in D.C., Acosta is facing hot water himself after a Florida judge ruled he broke the law by violating victims’ rights in a sexual abuse case involving billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, the Miami Herald reports. Acosta was appointed in April 2017 by Trump, making him one of the longest standing department heads in Trump’s administration.