Democratic Lawmakers Call for Hearing on GOP Miner Pensions Bill as Committee Reviews Mining Community Assistance Measures

Washington. D.C. – At today’s 10:00 a.m. hearing in the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee on H.R. 1731, the RECLAIM Act, Reps. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Donald McEachin (D-Va.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.) will deliver a letter to Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) calling for a hearing on H.R. 179, the Miners Protection Act, a Republican-authored bill to ensure miner pensions and health benefits are protected for the long term from the coal industry’s ongoing collapse. Gosar chairs the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, where Lowenthal is ranking member.

The Democratic letter, available at http://bit.ly/2oXhduN, points out that a recent extension of health care benefits for retired coal miners will expire on April 30. “While additional short-term extensions may occur, the roughly 20,000 retired coal miners that depend on those benefits deserve the long-term certainty and security that H.R. 179 would provide,” the lawmakers write. The bill, authored by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), would also strengthen the United Mine Workers of America 1974 pension plan, which covers nearly 90,000 retired miners across the country, the authors note.

The heavily bipartisan bill, which Lowenthal cosponsors, amends the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to bolster pension and health care funding for retired coal miners and their families. Bishop and Gosar have not yet indicated their intention to hold a hearing on McKinley’s bill.

Also at the hearing, Democrats will express support for the ideas behind the bipartisan RECLAIM Act and discuss potentially amending the bill to ensure that funding from the Act promotes economic development while also reclaiming abandoned coal mines. The bill’s stated purpose is to encourage economic redevelopment, but as written it does not require any connection between RECLAIM Act reclamation funding and long-term economic development except for the lowest-priority sites. Today’s hearing is not a markup and no formal amendments will be considered.

“Coal communities throughout Appalachia are hurting,” Lowenthal will say today in prepared remarks. “They have lost jobs, they have lost economic opportunities, and in many cases they have lost access to clean water and a healthy environment because of a legacy of mining pollution. This bill gives us the opportunity to turn all of that around.”

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