John Oliver and a Giant Squirrel Picked a Fight with the Coal Industry on Last Week Tonight

Updated: Jun 21, 2017 5:21 PM ET | Originally published: Jun 19, 2017

On Last Week Tonight John Oliver looked at coal, or as he called it “cocaine for Thomas the Tank Engine." Before he was President, Trump campaigned hard in coal country promising coal miners that he would bring their jobs back, even though, as Oliver pointed out, Trump may have no clue what a miner actually does. “He may very well think it’s running up to things he wants and yelling, ‘mine!’,” Oliver said.

Now that he’s in office, Trump has created some 1,300 coal jobs (which Oliver noted is far less than the number he claims to have created) and cited coal mining as one reason for pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

But according to Oliver, coal only has about 76,000 coal jobs vs J.C. Penney, which has 106,000 jobs despite its recent struggles and store closures. Oliver did say, though, that coal mines are central to the economies of the few cities in which they are located. “When coal jobs go away, communities feel it,” said Oliver, particularly because coal jobs are high paying jobs.

Oliver noted that coal mining jobs declined under former President Obama, but pointed out that such work had been declining for decades like “careers in the Zeppelin industry and babies named Adolf.” According to Oliver, that decline is correlated to the drop in natural gas prices and growth in renewable energy. Solar power is frequently much less expensive than coal, so much so that the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum is solar powered, which Oliver noted was like “finding out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was brought to you by Smashmouth.”

Oliver also said that one of the biggest threats to coal miners is coal company CEOS, which reportedly claims to workers that it’s an us versus them situation, even while cutting health and life insurance benefits and giving themselves a hefty raise. To illustrate his point, Oliver turned to Bob Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, despite the fact that Murray’s lawyers sent Oliver a cease and desist letter before the show aired.

Of course, asking Oliver to “cease and desist” is simply asking for trouble. “Let’s talk about Bob Murray,” said Oliver, admitting that he knew he would get sued and opting to tread carefully: “I’m not going to say he looks like a geriatric Dr. Evil even though he clearly does.” He went on to discuss accusations against Murray Energy, including one claiming Murray was inspired to found the company after a chat with a talking squirrel.

Oliver’s producer asked Murray Energy about that talking squirrel and they denied Murray had ever been spoken to by a talking squirrel. So Oliver decided to rectify that immediately with the help of a giant squirrel named Mr. Nutterbutter.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described the number of people currently employed by J.C. Penney. The retail chain has 106,000 employees, not 114,000.

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