Trey Pollard, 202-904-9187, firstname.lastname@example.org
Due to inclement weather and the increased risk it poses to people with black lung, these demonstrations have been postponed. This press release was updated at 11 a.m. on Dec. 6.
CHARLESTON, WV — Today, the National Black Lung Association announced it would hold two weeks of daily demonstrations to urge Senator Shelley Moore Capito to support a critically-needed 10-year extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax.
“Everyone says how we need to support coal in West Virginia, but people don’t realize that they’re not really supporting miners, just the companies. We’re out here on the street because we need everyone to know what black lung is putting us through, and that we need their backing,” said Gary Hairston, President of the National Black Lung Association, and President of the Fayette County (WV) Black Lung Association.
Earlier this year, Senator Manchin introduced the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Act of 2021 to extend the Black Lung Excise Tax for 10 years, but Capito has yet to endorse the bill or any extension of the excise tax this Congress. The excise tax is the only dedicated source of revenue for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund (BLDTF), a fund that is already over $4 billion in debt. The BLDTF pays for medical benefits and provides a small monthly living stipend to coal miners who are disabled by black lung disease, and to their surviving dependents. Over $40 million in benefits from the fund was distributed to families in West Virginia during 2020, and over $162 million was distributed nationally. Without congressional action, the excise tax will be cut in half at the end of the year.
“If we don’t get this bill passed, the debt will just keep on building up,” Hairston said. “Sooner or later, the companies will be paying nothing and the taxpayer will have to pay everything. We need Senator Capito to support the 10-year extension so that we don’t have to worry about if our benefits are going to keep being funded. If Senator Capito would join Senator Manchin on this, it would let everybody know that this isn’t about one party. It’s something that the people of West Virginia really need. I’m really hoping they will get together on this.”
Coal miners are facing an epidemic as black lung disease has risen to historically unprecedented levels, hitting a 25-year high in Appalachian coal mining states. The incidence rate of black lung, a preventable disease caused by exposure to coal dust and silica on the job, has doubled nationwide since 2000. 1 in 5 veteran coal miners in Central Appalachia now have the disease. Many miners diagnosed with the disease today are younger and sicker than ever before.
“Without sufficient funding from the excise tax on coal, miners disabled by black lung will have a more difficult time obtaining compensation to support their families.” said John Cline, a Beckley attorney who represents miners with black lung. “West Virginians are already struggling economically, and families cannot afford any delay or reduction in black lung benefits. This funding is an absolute necessity!”
Coal miners who are disabled from black lung, as well their surviving dependents, are entitled by law to modest living and medical benefits. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund pays for these benefits in cases where the miners’ employer has gone bankrupt or where no coal company can be identified as responsible for the miner’s disease.
The trust fund is more important now than ever because a wave of bankruptcies in the coal industry has created increased pressure on the program. It is supported by a small excise tax paid by companies per ton of coal sold domestically, at a rate that was unchanged for more than three decades: $0.55/ ton of surface mined coal, and $1.10/ ton of coal mined underground.
In 2018, the excise tax was reduced and collected at less than 50% of its historic rate for the entirety of 2019, pushing the BLDTF deeper into debt. In 2019 and 2020 the higher, historic rate of the excise tax was reinstated through one-year tax extender bills, but the rate will be cut in half again at the end of this year without action from Congress. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund Acl would extend the Black Lung Excise Tax on coal sales at the current tax rates for 10 years. Meanwhile, the Build Back Better Bill that recently passed through the House of Representatives includes a 4-year extension to the tax. A 10-year extension provides longer-term security for the fund, and for the miners who depend on it compared to short-term, one year extensions.