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Our view: Don't forget our retired coal miners

By The Editorial Board
updated: 3/30/2017 9:42 AM

As President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to begin the process of rolling back the Clean Power Plan, former President Obama's signature policy to reduced carbon pollution from power plants, it got us thinking about southern Illinois' retired miners.

The Administration is counting on the rollback to restore thousands of coal mining jobs. Whether it does, or whether the gain will be limited due to increased automation or a glut of cheap natural gas, remains to be seen.

What is clearly in front of us, however, are at least 3,000 retired southern Illinois miners who live on tenterhooks, wondering if come April they will lose their health care benefits.

Thousands more are concerned they will also lose pensions.

Late last year, Congress agreed to a four-month extension of benefits for miners whose health care was going to expire on Dec. 31. Those four months are about up, and the Miners Protection Act of 2017 is still sitting in the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, where at the moment gives it a 1 percent chance of being enacted.

Probably just about every one of us knows or is related to someone who works or worked in the mines. It's hard labor, done by tough men and women, many of whom have had to retire because of health problems.

They were promised health care and pensions, but in declaring bankruptcy, coal companies have gotten out from under those obligations. Now, their insurance benefits are dependent upon Congress agreeing to fund them, primarily from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund.

We appreciate that Mike Bost, our Republican congressman from Murphysboro, has been strongly behind the Miners Protection Act, and that he has said he wants Congress to address the bankruptcy rules that allow companies to abdicate their responsibility to retirees.

We'd like support from even higher ground, too. On Tuesday, the President was pictured with coal company executives he's helping by easing environmental regulations. It would be nice to see a similar picture of him next month, surrounded by the coal miners he's helped by protecting the pensions and insurance they'd been led to believe they could count on.