Wyoming and West Virginia at odds over coal miner pensions

Published: Nov. 21, 2017 at 11:00 AM CST
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Wyoming and West Virginia lawmakers are at odds over a new plan to save coal miner pensions.

Although both states are leaders in the coal mining industry, neither agree on how to protect the future of workers from that industry. Currently, 25 states produce coal, with Wyoming producing the most (396 million short tons), followed by West Virginia (112 million short tons) each year.

In Washington, retired miners are meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, asking them to move forward with a bill to save their pensions. The United Mine Workers of America (UWMA) pensions could run out of money in the next several years, so they're asking the federal government to step in.

They, and lawmakers from West Virginia, say legislation would fulfill a promise first made by the Truman administration to make sure miners are taken care of.

But other groups, like the conservative Heritage Foundation, argue this sets a dangerous precedent, since the federal government has never before provided a bailout to a private sector pension. Heritage research fellow Rachel Greszler says this plan would amount to 600 billion dollars over the next 10 years in government-backed loans.

"I really hope they don’t step in and say taxpayers are going to pay for all those unfunded promises," said Greszler, "because that just sets a principle going forward"

Greszler believes the money sends the wrong message and would only help a small portion of miners. Wyoming's congressional delegation agrees, with Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso saying the bill would also take resources away from their state. In particular, they believe the legislation would end up shuffling away funds designated to clean up abandoned mines. Congressman Liz Cheney is also against a bailout for the UWMA using taxpayer money.

Sponsors for the legislation though hope to see some traction on this bill either this year or early in 2018.