Source: E&E News
Coal state lawmakers and their allies urged Congress’ special pensions panel to focus on the workers facing the most immediate deadline for losing benefits: union coal miners.
Congressional Coal Caucus Chairman David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and 24 other House members urged leaders of the Joint Select Committee on the Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans to prioritize 100,000 United Mine Workers of America retirees and their beneficiaries.
“Most of them have occupational diseases or injuries, or are the widows of those who died from those diseases,” said the letter to joint committee co- Chairmen Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
The 16-member special panel — split evenly between Republicans and Democrats and House and Senate members — is tasked with broader pension reform, including the massive Teamsters Central States plan, but the first fund expected to reach insolvency is the UMWA’s 1974 Pension Plan and Trust in 2022.
“While that seems far off, in reality it is not,” states the letter, signed by 15 Republicans and 10 Democrats. “Any further shocks to the coal industry or investment markets will hasten that insolvency. There really is no more time to wait to solve this problem for retired miners and widows.”
A series of bankruptcies during the recent coal industry downturn allowed many major coal companies to shed vast amounts of pension obligations. That has left only one major employer, Murray Energy Corp., and a handful of smaller employers paying into the UMWA fund.
That is unlikely to change with coal still struggling to compete against natural gas in the modern energy landscape. “Increasing employer contributions to the levels needed to make the Fund secure would be impossible,” the letter states.
Despite an average UMWA fund payment of $582 per month, the UMWA fund threatens to bankrupt the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the already imperiled federal entity designed to prop up pensions. According to the letter, the joint committee is largely finished with fact-finding and beginning to work on how to fix the “looming crisis”
If at least five Democrats and five Republicans can agree on legislation, House and Senate leaders have guaranteed an expedited floor vote without amendments. The committee will dissolve no later than Dec. 31.
Written by: Dylan Brown