AP

Bill aids miners' pensions, health care

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is co-sponsoring a bill, with West Virginia’s two U.S. senators and others, aimed at preserving the pensions of about 92,000 retired coal miners, as well as the health care benefits of 13,000 working miners.

Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Shelley Moore Capito, of West Virginia, announced the bill Wednesday.

McConnell said in the statement that he raised the issue of protecting miners’ pensions and health benefits with President Donald Trump this week, and is “committed to continuing to work with him and my colleagues” toward a solution.

The bill would transfer surplus money from the Abandoned Mine Land fund to prevent the insolvency of a 1974 miners’ pension plan. It also would add coal company bankruptcies from 2018 and 2019 to health care legislation that passed in 2017.

Manchin said on a conference call that McConnell’s support “helps us get a guaranteed vote, I would think. He knew it was time to do it. I think he understands, the longer we wait, the more it costs and makes it harder to do.”

In the past, Manchin and the United Mine Workers union have been critical of McConnell for blocking votes to secure the pensions and health benefits.

“With this one bill, the United States Senate has taken a giant, bipartisan step forward in keeping America’s promise to our coal miners and their families,” UMW President Cecil Roberts said in a statement. “I am especially thankful for Leader McConnell’s support of this legislation. His voice on behalf of retired miners is critical, and I want to thank him on behalf of every retired miner in America.”

Manchin said Ohio-based Murray Energy’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing last week accelerated the urgency of getting the bill passed and signed before the end of the year.

“We need to get this done as soon as possible to prevent anyone from losing their pensions or their health care,” Manchin said.

Murray Energy joined a growing list of struggling mining companies as utilities switch from coal to cheaper and cleaner renewable energy or natural gas. Murray, which has operations in seven states, was the fourth-largest U.S. coal producer in 2018, accounting for 6 percent of total production, according to the Energy Information Administration.

In the Western United States, three of the Powder River Basin’s nine producers — Colorado’s Westmoreland Coal, Wyoming’s Cloud Peak Energy and West Virginia-based Blackjewel — have filed for bankruptcy protection over the past year. St. Louis-based Peabody Energy Corp. emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2017, and St. Louis-based Arch Coal and Bristol, Virginia-based Alpha emerged in 2016.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

FUNERALS FOR TODAY NOVEMBER 19, 2019

Baisden, Stephen - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danvillel.

Carper, Madgaline - 1 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Casto, Pamela - 1 p.m., White Funeral Home, Summersville.

Ferrell Jr., Jesse - Noon, Matics Funeral Home, Clendenin.

Frazier, Robert - 11 a.m., Tyler Mountain Funeral Home, Cross Lanes.

Jennings, Donald - 1 p.m., Gatens-Harding Funeral Home Chapel, Poca.

Myers, Pauline - 2 p.m., Myers Chapel of Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Stover, Norma - 1 p.m., Armstrong Funeral Home, Whitesville.

Summers, Garnet - 1 p.m., Stevens & Grass Funerals Home, Malden.

Young, Louise - 11 a.m., Snodgrass Funeral Home, South Charleston.