Almost 23,000 retired coal miners and their dependents on Wednesday received official notification that they could lose their health care benefits by April 30.
“This is causing tremendous mental and in some cases physical trauma to these senior citizens,” United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts said Wednesday. “They will now have to begin contemplating whether to continue to get medicines and treatments they need to live or to buy groceries. They will now have to wonder if they can go see a doctor for chronic conditions like black lung or cancer or pay the mortgage.”
For the last year, U.S. senators representing Ohio and West Virginia have worked to preserve health care coverage and pensions for retired coal miners. Roberts and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the health care coverage was originally slated to expire at the end of 2016, but Congress passed a four-month extension at that time.
Wonder how we got here:
When Sen. Mitch McConnell strode into the Capitol for last month’s State of the Union speech, he took with him a guest whose presence was sure to be seen as a slap against the Obama administration and its policies on coal.
“I brought along this unemployed coal miner here,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said, gesturing to fourth-generation mineworker Howard Abshire, “to see the person who put him out of work.”
The Senate majority leader said he wanted to call attention to President Obama’s “heartless” regulations that he argues have devastated communities in Abshire’s native eastern Kentucky. Yet just weeks earlier, McConnell’s office had delivered its own blow to Appalachian coal towns: It blocked efforts to rescue health and pension funds on which thousands of retired and disabled miners rely.
A plan that would ensure the solvency of the funds nearly made it through Congress in December as part of the bipartisan budget deal that cleared both chambers. But the bailout attempt — backed by key lawmakers from both political parties — was excluded from the deal at McConnell’s request, according to four Senate officials directly familiar with the events.
McConnell’s spokesman does not dispute that telling of events. And McConnell has not publicly explained his opposition to the measure.
His opposition is simple. He is in a blood feud with the UMWA and if thousands of miners get crushed in the process, well, killing the union is more important. Also, this:
Further complicating the problem is that new technologies allow coal companies to extract the mineral with far fewer employees than the process once required. This means the number of active miners paying into the union pension fund is minuscule compared to the number of retirees and their dependents collecting benefits from it.
In fact, senators estimate the number of active miners paying into the pension fund to be only 10,000, while there are 120,000 retirees drawing from it.
But what about all those new mining jobs?
Anyone with two neurons firing knows that coal jobs are not coming back, that what Trump and company are going to do is deregulate so that mining companies can extract coal more profitably because they don’t have to worry about miner safety and environmental regulations. And they will do things like this, which happened just today:
A bill that allows increased discharges of toxic pollution into West Virginia’s rivers and streams now is headed for the state Senate, after it was passed by the House of Delegates Wednesday following a somewhat confusing and emotional debate.
The House voted 63-37 to approve the legislation. House Bill 2506 would change the type of stream flow measurements the state Department of Environmental Protection uses when it sets the amount of pollution that chemical plants, factories and other industrial facilities can routinely discharge into the state’s waterways.
Fucking morons all the way from our representatives down to our voters.