Hillary Clinton spoke out in support of miners and the future of coal on Sept. 8 just hours before thousands of members of the United Mine Workers’ and other unions gathered on the U.S. Capitol grounds to demand action to save retiree healthcare and pensions.
“I firmly believe that if you spent your life keeping the lights on for our country, we can’t leave you in the dark,” Clinton said in support of the bipartisan Miners Protection Act, which would prevent thousands of UMWA members from losing the health care and pensions they were promised long ago.
|Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio addresses thousands of Mine Wokers in Washington, D.C. Brown is one of the sponsors of the Miners Protection Act aimed at preserving health and retirement benefits for more than 120,000 workers and retirees.
“For more than a century, America’s coal miners have put their own health and safety at risk to provide affordable and reliable energy for the nation,” Clinton said in a statement. “They are entitled to the benefits they have earned and the respect they deserve.”
She also laid out a plan to invest in coal communities and re-upped her support for tax credits to make technologies for cleaner coal-fired power production more affordable.
“Carbon capture and sequestration technology really is the only future for coal,” said IBEW Utility Department Director Jim Hunter. “It’s helpful that Hillary Clinton is out there supporting ideas to bring the cost down, because until we figure out how to make it affordable, nobody’s going to be investing in coal plants.”
The tax credits are part of the Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage Act, sponsored by North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, and would help to offset the prohibitively expensive costs associated with installing capture and sequestration equipment in coal, gas and industrial applications.
“The problem right now is that there’s no real market for these technologies,” Hunter said. “In order to make them work, we need these tax credits to help create the demand that will lead to even more innovation and to making them cheaper. This bill is a good start, and it’s great that she’s supporting it.”
Hunter also pointed out that without serious investment in carbon-capture technology – on coal and gas plants, in industrial applications and with carbon-emitting vehicles – the U.S. and other signatory countries have little hope of meeting their obligations under the U.N. Climate Change Agreement reached last November in Paris. “We either figure this out as a global community, or that agreement is just a piece of paper,” he said.
Clinton’s $30 billion plan to reinvest in coal communities includes a job creation plan that centers around building 21st century infrastructure like high-speed broadband and repurposing abandoned minelands and power plants to support new economic activity.
Clinton has also proposed a new “Coal Communities Challenge Fund,” which she says would support locally-driven economic development priorities in small business, agriculture, health care, tourism, housing and other industries.
The Sept. 8 UMWA rally in Washington was an urgent attempt to convince congressional leaders to uphold promises made to miners by President Harry Truman in 1946 in exchange for averting a strike. The Mineworkers health and pension plan, which insures 120,000 retired miners and their families, could start cutting benefits as early as next year.
A bipartisan group of senators, led by West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, estimates 46 Democrats and at least eight Republicans support the bill, but Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who decides if the bill sees a floor vote or not, has expressed skepticism about the package.
The legislation, which has spent 14
months stuck in the finance committee, wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime. It
simply moves money from the largely-unused Abandoned Mine Lands Fund to the
pension fund. Manchin expressed hope that the bill could see a committee vote
as soon as Sept. 14. “Because of you, the support that you're giving us,” he
said to the thousands-strong crowd, “That's going to make it happen. Without
you here today, this doesn't get done, I can assure you.”