Retired Miner’s Health Benefits Update
Congressional leaders say legislation to support health care benefits for retired miners could be attached to a must-pass spending bill this week. Becca Schimmel reports.
The United Mine Workers of America has accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of blocking action on the Miner’s Protection Act, a bill to fund pensions and health benefits.
McConnell: “I haven’t been preventing one at any point. The issue is miner’s health care and I’ve advocated that the House add miners health care to the CR the continuing resolution that we’ll be voting on next week.”
McConnell indicated the miner’s health care will be attached to the spending bill congress must pass to avoid a government shutdown. However, it’s unclear if that will include money for miner’s pension benefits. A group of senators including West Virginia democratic senator Joe Manchin have pledged to block senate proceedings until action is taken on the miner’s bill.
Manchin: “If we don’t stand for the people that made this country as great as it is then we stand for nothing.”
If congress doesn’t act during this lame duck session more than sixteen thousand retired miners could lose their benefits by the end of the year. For the Ohio Valley ReSource, I’m Becca Schimmel in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Grassroots Petition to McConnell: Get Moving on RECLAIM Act
LONDON, Ky. – A grassroots message is being sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: it’s time for swift action to pass legislation that would help both the economy and environment in distressed coal communities. Three organizers, including Katie Dollarhide of Letcher County, delivered a petition with nearly 10,000 signatures Monday to McConnell’s district office in London.
Dollarhide blames McConnell for stalling action on the RECLAIM Act, which would move $1 billion over five years from the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund into areas hit hard by the decline of the coal industry.
“He’s the very person who could pick this up and lead it like a champion,” she said. “I’ve been embarrassed, I’ve been let down, I’ve been mad. Step up is what we’re saying to Mitch McConnell.”
Dollarhide said she is a registered Republican and has voted for McConnell in the past. Another Kentucky Republican, Representative Hal Rogers introduced the RECLAIM ACT in the House ten months ago. It proposes creating economic opportunities by reclaiming abandoned mine sites.
A recent poll showed there is overwhelming public support for tapping into the federal fund to spur economic development in Appalachia, including Kentucky, where more than 11,000 coal-mining jobs have been lost since 2009. With Congress about to go on its long holiday recess, Dollarhide said the petition speaks to the coal region’s urgent needs.
“It says to make this happen immediately,” she added. “This is our chance. If they wait until next session or another time, it’s weakening us more and it’s making us more of a helpless community.”
Another petition has also been delivered to McConnell, urging him to allow the Miners’ Protection Act to get to the Senate floor. That legislation would protect healthcare and pension benefits for tens of thousands of former coal miners and their families.
Alpha Natural Resources and West Virginia Settlement
West Virginia regulators have settled a lawsuit brought against Alpha Natural Resources over concerns about the coal producer’s reclamation obligations as it emerges from bankruptcy. Glynis Board reports.
BOARD: West Virginia regulators have settled a lawsuit brought against Alpha Natural Resources over concerns about the coal producer’s reclamation obligations as it emerges from bankruptcy. Glynis Board reports.
Alpha is one of the biggest coal companies in the country. A Virginia court approved its bankruptcy plan in July. But in November, Alpha revealed an additional 100 million-dollars in unaccounted-for expenses.
West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection worried that the burden could leave the company unable to pay for reclamation of damaged mine lands. So the state agency filed a lawsuit against Alpha that sought to hold executives accountable should Alpha fail again after bankruptcy.
Under the settlement announced this week, the DEP has agreed to dismiss the complaint. In exchange, Alpha agreed to post its Boone County headquarters as collateral, appraised at $6.3 million, and and post an additional $8M in limited guarantees to cover the company’s obligations.
For the Ohio Valley ReSource, I’m Glynis Board in Wheeling, West Virginia.
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