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Not Too Late for Congress to Help KY Coal Communities

The RECLAIM Act would commit $1 billion to mine reclamation efforts. (U.S. Department of the Interior/Flickr)
The RECLAIM Act would commit $1 billion to mine reclamation efforts. (U.S. Department of the Interior/Flickr)
December 17, 2018

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Congress has a chance to provide support to workers and communities in Kentucky suffering the impacts of the coal mining industry.

The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund helps coal miners with black lung disease and their families cover medical costs.

A tax on coal mining, which finances the fund, is slated to be cut in half by the end of the year.

Kenny Fleming of Eastern Kentucky, who had to retire early as a coal miner when he developed black lung, says lawmakers are pushing to extend the tax for just one year.

"The trust fund is a life saver,” he stresses. “It's helped so many people in so many ways. But now it's in jeopardy and we're trying to put a Band-Aid on it. "

There are also calls for Congress to move on the RECLAIM Act.

Eric Dixon, senior coordinator of Policy and Community Engagement with the Appalachian Citizens' Law Center says the measure calls for a $1 billion commitment to mine reclamation.

"It would put people to work cleaning up coal mine sites that have never been cleaned up and that currently cause pollution and negative public health impacts," he explains.

Dixon and Fleming are among those hoping Congress approves at least a one-year extension of the trust fund, and passes the RECLAIM Act before adjourning for the year.

With cases of black lung disease tripled since the year 2000, Dixon contends a 10-year extension is what's really needed for the trust fund.

"[And] it is against that backdrop of a black lung epidemic that Congress is currently on a path to slash this tax that helps provide really important living and medical expenses to victims of the disease," he points out.

Last year, the trust fund paid out nearly $184 million to more than 25,000 coal miners and their families, including 4,000 in Kentucky.

And a federal report on the Black Lung Disability Trust Funds says the scheduled tax cut would more than triple the fund's deficit in the next 30 years.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - KY