By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, incorrectly told a series of talk show hosts this weekend that the coal industry had added nearly 50,000 jobs since late last year, he was using figures covering the metals, oil and gas industries too, an EPA spokesman said on Monday.
Pruitt's comments, which came on the heels of a decision by the administration of President Donald Trump to withdraw from a global pact to fight climate change, triggered a backlash on social media by people questioning his honesty.
The coal industry has added 1,700 jobs since late 2016 and now employs about 51,000 people. The figure is down sharply from 175,000 in the late 1980s when it steadily began losing market share to natural gas, according to government figures.
"Administrator Pruitt was referring to mining, which includes coal," EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines the mining sector as any business involved in the extraction of minerals like ores, coal, petroleum and natural gas.
Trump had campaigned on a promise to revive the coal mining industry by rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations, and is eager to show results to his supporters.
Last week, Trump announced a decision to withdraw the United States from a global pact to fight climate change, the Paris Climate Agreement, a decision that caused dismay among many of America's allies.
Asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd if President Donald Trump was making a "false promise” to revive the U.S. coal industry - which has been battered by cheaper natural gas - Pruitt responded, "Dead wrong."
"Because the numbers show exactly the opposite. In fact since the fourth quarter of last year to most recently we added almost 50,000 jobs in the coal sector. In the month of May alone, almost 7,000 jobs," he said.
He used the same figures in an interview on Fox News. And in a third interview on Sunday with ABC News Pruitt said, “We have had over 50,000 coal jobs, mining jobs created.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Pruitt's figures were correct for the broad “mining” sector.
EPA spokeswoman Bowman said Pruitt's point remains.
"America’s miners and drillers are getting back to work under President Trump with the seventh straight month of job creation, after 25 consecutive months of decline in the previous administration," she said.
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)