APPALACHIA — The National Black Lung Association and 68 other organizations sent a letter to congressional leadership Thursday urging immediate action to provide a long-term extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax.
When Congress failed to pass a four-year extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax in the Build Back Better Act before the new year began, that single source of revenue for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund (BLDTF) was cut by more than half. Now, with the trust fund losing more than $2.8 million a week, a large coalition of organizations from across Appalachia and the country are urging Congress to quickly pass legislation that provides certainty and stability for miners with black lung and their families.
“Miners and families impacted by black lung need the stability of a longer term extension of the excise tax so they can address other urgent issues — including a study on the adequacy of the benefits, the need for workplace protections to prevent the disease, and legislation that addresses the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund’s (BLDTF) solvency crisis over the long-term,” the letter reads.
In the letter, the organizations push for expedited action to pass the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Act of 2021. Introduced by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, and containing a 10-year extension of the black lung excise tax, the bill did not advance last year, with hopes for an extension resting on the Build Back Better Act’s provisions. With that policy shelved amid Manchin’s opposition, miners with black lung and their families are hoping the senator’s legislation offers a path forward toward the long-term stability that Congress has failed to provide for so long.
“The only source of revenue for the BLDTF is a small excise tax on domestically sold coal,” the letter continues. “If the tax is cut or goes away, taxpayers end up picking up the bill, the Trust Fund goes further into debt, and the benefits that miners have earned are put under a cloud of uncertainty. That’s why the Black Lung Association has been fighting for a long-term extension of the excise tax.”
Watch a press conference about the letter here.
Organizations signing the letter include:
American Friends Service Committee (West Virginia) – Americans for Tax Fairness – Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center – Appalachian Community Services – Appalachian Land Study Collective – Appalachian Voices – Appalshop – Berea College – Breathe Project – Bronx Jews for Climate Action – Center for Coalfield Justice – Center for Rural Strategies – Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance – Charleston, WV Branch NAACP – Chesapeake Climate Action Network – Christians For The Mountains – Citizens Coal Council – Clearfork Community Institute – Climate Action Alliance of the Valley – Coal River Mountain Watch – Earth Action, Inc. – Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR) – Eco-Justice Collaborative – Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions – Friends For Environmental Justice – Friends of the Earth U.S. – Gesundheit Institute – Greater Highland Area Concerned Citizens – Grow Gillespie, IL – Gwendolyn Ridge, LLC – Highlander Research and Education Center – Illinois People’s Action – Jewish Climate Action Network – Jewish Climate Action Network NYC – Joe Hill Music LLC – Kanawha County Black Lung Association – Kentuckians For The Commonwealth – Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light – Kentucky Resources Council – Keystone Research Center – League of Women Voters of the United States – Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN) – National Wildlife Federation – On the Levels Farmstead, LLC. – Pennsylvania Council of Churches – Pennsylvania Jewish Earth Alliance – Rainelle Medical Center’s Black Lung Clinic – Respiratory Health Association – Rural Action – RuralOrganizing.org – Sierra Club – Southern Appalachian Labor School – Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards – Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) – The Alliance for Appalachia – Thrive at Life: Workplace Solutions – Tifereth Israel Congregation – Tó Nizhóní Ání – Tri-Area Community Health – United Mine Workers of America – Virginia Organizing – West Virginia Citizen Action Group – West Virginia Council of Churches – West Virginia Environmental Council – West Virginia Interfaith Power and Light – West Virginia Rivers Coalition – Western Colorado Alliance – Western Organization of Resource Councils – Woodland Community Development Corporation
Individual signers include:
Gary Hairston, President National Black Lung Association: President, Fayette County WV Black Lung Association
Vonda Robinson, Vice President of National Black Lung Association
Dianna Perdue, Secretary, National Black Lung Association; Treasurer, Kanawha County WV Black Lung Association
Arvin Hanshaw, President, Nicholas County Black Lung Association
Dean Vance, President, Southwest Virginia Black Lung Association, Chapter 1
Bethel Brock, President, Southwest Virginia Black Lung Association, Chapter 2
Mark Lane, President, Wyoming County WV Black Lung Association
Brenda Ellis, Vice President, Wyoming County WV Black Lung Association
Fred Pinson, Vice President, East Kentucky Coalfield Black Lung Association
William Jay McCool, Vice President, Black Lung Association of Southeastern Kentucky
Judith Riffe, Secretary Treasurer, Wyoming County Black Lung Association
Linda Adams, Secretary, East Kentucky Coalfield Black Lung Association
Patty Amburgey, Secretary, Black Lung Association of Southeastern Kentucky
Mike Hairston, President, McDowell County Black Lung Association
Howard Mitchelson, President, Mercer County Black Lung Association
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 was cut in half again at the end of last year because Congress failed to act. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund Act 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.
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.