Failure to pass Build Back Better delays key investments for Appalachia; cuts black lung benefits funding


Dan Radmacher, Media Specialist, Appalachian Voices,, (540) 798-6683

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Yesterday, President Joe Biden released a statement making clear that the U.S. Senate would head home for the holidays without passing the Build Back Better bill, which includes crucial investments for Appalachian communities.

Among those investments left on the table is the extension of the Black Lung Excise tax at current rates. This tax is the only source of revenue for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which pays benefits to coal miners with the disease and their survivors when the miner’s employer has gone bankrupt or is otherwise unable to provide these benefits.

When the current rates expire on Dec. 31, the excise tax will be cut by more than half, drastically reducing available resources for the trust fund, which is already in debt. The fund borrowed $2.3 billion from the Treasury’s general fund in 2021. If Congress fails to extend the current rates, more than $60 million of revenue for the fund will be lost each quarter.

“Coal miners suffering from black lung disease and their families deserve certainty that the disability trust fund will be able to provide the support they have been promised,” said Chelsea Barnes, Legislative Director for Appalachian Voices. “Allowing the excise tax rate to decline gives coal companies a significant tax break, letting them off the hook for the negative health impacts the industry has on its workers.”

The Build Back Better bill also includes a large portion of President Joe Biden’s economic and climate agenda. If enacted into law, Build Back Better will deliver significant investments in Appalachian families and workers and create jobs bringing cleaner energy to our communities and making our region more resilient in the face of climate change. The growing need for these investments was made clear in recent weeks as Kentuckians are struggling to recover from severe storms worsened by climate change.

The bill includes support for rural electric cooperatives transitioning away from fossil fuels and clean energy tax incentives, among other programs.

“Appalachian communities struggling with the decline of the coal industry are ready to get to work building new resilient, locally driven economies with the programs and incentives included in Build Back Better,” said Tom Cormons, Executive Director of Appalachian Voices. “We urge Congress to act quickly to pass this important legislation.”

“Electric cooperatives provide electricity to over 90% of the nation’s persistent poverty counties in Appalachia, the Southern Black Belt, the Mississippi Delta, the US-Mexico Border and Tribal Lands across the West,” said Bri Knisley, Tennessee Campaign Manager for Appalachian Voices. “Federal investment in rural energy transition through Build Back Better will support climate goals and job creation, and lower electric bills for the 42 million rural Americans that are served by electric co-ops, without driving these communities further into debt.”

“The Build Back Better Act would invest tens of billions of dollars every year into projects that will put Appalachian residents to work creating America’s energy infrastructure for the coming century, while helping more of us save money on our power bills with solar,” said Autumn Long, project manager for the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund. “It is important that Congress act quickly to expand the clean energy tax credits included in the bill to boost the clean energy industry in Appalachian communities and provide electricity bill relief for families.”

Appalachian Voices is a leading nonprofit advocate for a healthy environment and just economy in the Appalachian region, and a driving force in America’s shift from fossil fuels to a clean energy future.