your next commerce secretary: wilbur ross, jr.

On 30 November 2016, President-Elect Donald Trump chose 79-year-old Wilbur Ross, Jr. to nominate for the post of Secretary of Commerce in his upcoming administration. Ross announced the selection himself during a CNBC interview that also featured Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s choice for Secretary of the Treasury. Both Ross and Mnuchin must be confirmed by the Senate before taking on their Cabinet positions.

Ross specializes in turning around failed corporations and seems to prefer those in energy and construction circles. Ross is reportedly worth $2.9 billion; Mnuchin’s net worth is estimated to be only about $40 million. Both men have worked many years for Wall Street firms and other financial institutions.

In Trump’s announcement confirming the selection, he called Ross a “champion of American manufacturing” and that Ross “knows that cutting taxes for working families, reducing burdensome government regulations and unleashing America’s energy resources will strengthen our economy at a time when our country needs to see significant growth.”

In 2004, Ross formed the International Coal Group in such a manner that the corporation was free from labor unions, health care plans for its employees or a pension plan. Through a series of subsidiaries, ICG owned Anker West Virginia Mining, which operated Sago Mine in Sago, West Virginia. On 2 January 2006, an explosion collapsed Sago Mine, trapping 13 miners. Only one of the miners survived. At the time it was the worst mining disaster in the US since 2001 and the worst in West Virginia since 1968. Another coal mine explosion in 2010 topped Sago’s death count with 29 fatalities.

In 2005, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) cited Sago Mine with 208 violations, 96 of them classified as “serious and substantial.” Forty-six of the violations (18 S&S) came in the three months leading up to the explosion. The mine was closed following the explosion, but reopened on 12 March 2006. ICG later closed the mine permanently.

Though various state and federal agencies who investigated the explosion have released documents relating to the disaster, ICG has refused to release any records. A New York Post reporter, Roddy Boyd, claimed that Ross “knew all about [Sago Mine’s] safety problems,” but no proof of that knowledge has ever been released.

Ross served on the US-Russia Investment Fund during the Clinton administration and as New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s privatization advisor. Ross was at one time an officer of the New York State Democratic Party. He has been married three times and has two daughters from his first marriage.

Photo of Ross courtesy of the Palm Beach Daily News (Creative Commons 4.0 license).

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