Keeping Faith With Miners

Santa Claus may be coming early to thousands of men and women who provided more than a few lumps of coal to millions of their fellow Americans.

The near-collapse of the U.S. coal industry — partly as a result of federal government action — has left as many as 100,000 retired miners and their families in dire straits. For many years, their pension system, operated through the United Mine Workers of America, was supported by payments from coal companies. But those payments were based on tonnages of coal mined, and those numbers have plummeted during recent years.

Without intervention, the miners’ pension program could become insolvent as early as next year.

Noting that the UMW pension system was set up in 1946, with the sanction of the federal government, West Virginia’s delegation in Congress has led a long battle to rescue the program. It seems finally to have borne fruit.

Under the leadership of U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., the House of Representatives has supported a federal bailout of the miners’ pension system. But bills to make that happen have stalled in the U.S. Senate, despite the best efforts of Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

This week, members of our congressional delegation revealed a deal has been closed to gain Senate acceptance of a bailout measure. It is included in a spending bill set for a Senate vote today. The House has already approved a companion piece of legislation.

Though both Capito and Manchin are confident their fellow senators will approve the bill, a reminder may be in order: For generations, America’s coal miners labored in difficult, sometimes dangerous conditions to provide the fuel needed to produce inexpensive electricity for tens of millions of homes, as well as to many industries. Now, because we as a society are shifting away from coal, many mine retirees face bleak futures.

Pass the bill, senators.

We owe the retirees that, at the very least.


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