Coal country pleas echo through Congress
Appalachian miners call for a tax hike on coal. They argue it’s essential step to protect their physical and financial health – without burdening taxpayers
“I pray that [Congress is] listening because they’re all we’ve got,” said Patty Aumburgey. Black Lung Disease – which stems from decades of exposure to coal dust -- claimed the Kentucky native’s husband of 45-years in 2007.
The incurable disease touches every one of the more than 100 retired mine workers and their families who rallied in the Capitol this week. They want Congress to raise the tax on coal production -- that helps cover the cost of care and disability – back to where it was last year.
“it’s important to every miner that is walking these halls,” said Aumburgey. She ran into Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), thanking him for writing a bill to do just that. “Bless you,” she told him as they shared a hug in a hallway.
“Congress is the one that broke it and Congress has got to fix it,” said Manchin of the fund.
Aumburgey and her peers also met with the country’s most-powerful senator – Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He did not commit to raising the coal production tax back up, but his staff said Congress’ typical process will find the best way to protect miners.
Spokespeople issued this statement which reads:
“Senator McConnell and staff met with Kentucky miners today to discuss this issue. As Senator McConnell has stated, the Black Lung Disability Fund benefits continue. It’s important to note that even though the temporary tax increase expired last year, current benefits for our impacted miners and their families have remained at prior levels. Senator McConnell and his staff have been working closely with interested parties regarding future funding for the program, and will continue to ensure these important benefits are maintained. Additionally he will continue working on the many ways to help coal miners and the clinics that serve them across Kentucky, including the Coal Miners Clinic in Muhlenberg County, for which he was proud to help secure HRSA grant funding.”
Twenty-five thousand miners and their families depend on the Black Lung Disability Fund and the disease is on the rise. The fund is billions in debt and is expected to stay there unless Congress acts.
Those on the trip from Kentucky also met with staffers from Sen. Paul’s office. A spokesperson says they “are exploring ways to assist,” but did not respond to our questions about specific proposals.