Ashton Marra Published

Senators: Use Mine Cleanup Funds to Pay for Miner Benefits


Members of the U.S. Senate will soon consider a bill that could affect the pension and healthcare benefits of nearly 28 thousand retired West Virginia coal miners.

Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, along with Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, introduced the Miners Protection Act Tuesday, aimed at protecting the lifetime healthcare and pension benefits promised to coal miners by the federal government.

On a conference call with reporters, Manchin said the economic state of the country over the past several years has put the pension and healthcare system at risk. Before the 2008 economic downturn, Manchin said the benefits program was funded at 94 percent compared to 71 percent today.

The bill finds a new source of funding for the benefits in the federal abandoned mine lands, or AML, program. AML funds come from a tax on each ton of coal produced in the country.

The first $490 million of that revenue are required to be used for the reclamation of abandoned mines across the country that may cause environmental harm to its surrounding area. Under the Miners Protection Act, the rest of the revenue would be dedicated to the miners’ benefits.

“It’s a way to fix something that we’re responsible and obligated [for] and we’re going to end up paying one way or another,” Manchin said. “This is a better way to handle it.”

In 2014, the AML fund had an unappropriated balance of $2.48 billion.

United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts expressed his support of the bill in a written statement.

“There are literally thousands of retirees and widows throughout America’s coal-producing regions for whom this legislation is a matter of life or death,” Roberts said. “This legislation would preserve [their] benefits, and ensure that they have the dignified retirement they deserve.”