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Bill would restore increased tax rate on coal to fund black lung disability benefits

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Miner hands with coal
Photo: svet110/iStockphoto

Washington — Proposed legislation would create funding for health care and other benefits for coal miners who have black lung disease by extending, for 10 years, a recently expired excise tax rate increase on coal production.

Black lung is another name for coal workers’ pneumoconiosis – a deadly condition caused by exposure to respirable coal mine dust.

The original increase excise tax rate, which supports the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, expired Dec. 31. H.R. 6462, introduced Jan. 20 by Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Alma Adams (D-NC), would restore it. Although mine operators are generally responsible for paying black lung benefits, the fund helps finance benefits for miners and eligible survivors or dependents when no responsible mine operator is identifiable or the operator is out of business.

Effective Jan. 1, the tax rate fell to 50 cents a ton on underground coal and 25 cents a ton on surface coal – a 55% reduction from the previous rates of $1.10 and 55 cents, respectively. The fund already stands about $5 billion in debt, according to a press release from the House Education and Labor Committee, of which Scott is chair.

The release also cites a May 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office that concluded failure to extend the previous tax rate will swell the fund’s debt to roughly $15 billion by 2050.

“Long-term funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is a necessity,” Cecil Roberts, president of United Mine Workers of America International, said in the release. “Miners are suffering from [black lung] because they dedicated their lives to providing this nation with electricity and steel. The least Congress could do is ensure that the benefits they depend on to survive will always be there.”

In a November 2020 report, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General notes that more than three times as many coal miners were identified as having black lung disease from 2010 to 2014 compared with 1995 to 1999.

 

“With the number of black lung cases rapidly increasing, Congress must take action to secure health care and benefits for disabled miners,” Adams said in the release. “We can’t allow the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund to sink deeper into debt.”

In September, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced similar legislation (S. 2810). The bill hasn’t advanced past the Senate.

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