CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK) — It appears the sun is shining on the coal industry, with the announcement of an agreement on a bill in Congress to rescue pensions for 100,000 coal miners, retirees and widows. For years, pension protection for miners was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. But now he’s signed on to a bipartisan bill, that has wide Appalachian support in Congress.
“We have Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. I think this really sends a message that we’re serious about fixing the pension issue. That those miners are going to be taken care of and their families are taken care of. They’ve earned these pensions,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, (R) West Virginia.
The pensions were put in jeopardy when numerous coal companies filed for bankruptcy and many then went out of business. But last week’s announcement that Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal operators, was also filing bankruptcy, added to the urgency.
“The Murray Coal company, which really threw this into a tailspin. It exasperated and accelerated everything as to when people would start being denied health care, and when they would start having their pensions reduced,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, (D) West Virginia.
Hundreds of Appalachian miners protested in the nation’s capital earlier this year. And some are wondering if Tuesday’s apparent upset in the Kentucky Governor’s race, may have put political pressure on Senator McConnell to finally act.
“You know there are eight thousand miners in Kentucky that are impacted by the possibility of losing their pensions. And I’ve been working on Senator McConnell,” said Capito.
Many believe the bill will have the full support of President Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to revitalize the coal industry.
“The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed the Miner Pension Protection Act. Now the House and Senate will have to work out their differences, for this pension measure to become law,” said Mark Curtis, 13 News Chief Political Reporter.