Miner Pension Markup Expected this Week

The Senate Finance Committee may hold a long-awaited markup this week on legislation to secure retiree benefits for more than 120,000 union coal miners and dependents.

West Virginia Sens. Joe Manchin (D) and Shelley Moore Capito (R) have both said they expect Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to schedule a vote this week on the "Miners Protection Act," S. 1714.

The senators, other lawmakers and the United Mine Workers of America, are increasing the pressure on Congress to act. The union bused in thousands of union members last week for a demonstration in front of the Capitol (Greenwire, Sept. 8).

The federal government has played a role in miner benefits since 1946, when President Truman signed an agreement between mine owners and miners to avoid a strike.

Bill proponents blame the recession and the coal downturn for leaving the UMWA's benefit fund in danger of cutting off payments to a portion of beneficiaries by the end of the year.

The legislation would alter the formula behind the abandoned mine reclamation fund, which collects a fee on every ton of American coal.

It would allow UMWA pension plans, which receive interest made on the fund, to draw from $490 million in general Treasury money set aside in 2006 for states that have finished cleaning up their priority sites.

Supporters say the bill would simply allow the union to use appropriated dollars that go partially unused every year, but conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation, oppose using Treasury funds to help the private union.

By:  Dylan Brown
Source: E&E News