Coal Industry Asks for Financially Beneficial Rollbacks Amid Coronavirus
By Rebecca Beitsch
March 21, 2020 - Coal companies are looking to the White House and Congress to roll back a number of fees paid by mining companies, arguing the coronavirus will exacerbate difficult financial times for the struggling industry.
In a letter to President Trump and congressional leaders first reported by Reuters on Thursday, the National Mining Association asked lawmakers to decrease payments to a trust fund for those with black lung disease and “suspend or reduce” the fees paid to the government for mining on federal land.
“Even before the recent crisis, the coal industry was struggling to recover from a series of disabling public policies,” Rich Nolan, president and CEO of the National Mining Association, wrote in the letter dated Wednesday, according to Reuters. “The fuel security provided by coal reserves at power plants offers resiliency to a system that is bracing for uncertainty, and it is imperative to keep these plants online.”
The coal industry is just one of the fossil fuel industries angling for assistance due to the virus. The Trump administration recently said the U.S. would buy 30 million gallons of domestically produced oil as the industry tanks amid financial fallout from both the coronavirus and a trade war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, two major oil producing nations.
Coal companies have been under financial pressure in recent years, struggling to stay afloat as utilities turn to cleaner forms of energy and financial institutions increasingly vow not to fund fossil fuel projects.
Democrats have repeatedly argued the Trump administration should not prop up the industry, and renewed that call after the National Mining Association letter surfaced.
“The coal industry is taking advantage of the country’s current circumstances to advocate for policies that are completely unrelated to the current crisis,” Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) wrote in a letter to House and Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle.
“It is disappointing that the coal industry is advocating for policies that would not help the tens of thousands of sick, retired, and out-of-work miners that need immediate help and the communities that are still recovering from the legacy of environmental damage caused by the coal industry," they added.
While other industries have asked for direct financial assistance, the coal industry's proposal would scale back regulatory actions that they argue pose a financial burden.
The industry asked to pause or limit the royalty payments it turns over to the federal government for mining on federal lands — fees that put nearly $527 million in the Treasury last year.
The letter also asked to reduce payments the industry must make to the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund to 2019 levels after Congress increased that tax by $220 million for this year. The fund provides monthly payments and medical benefits to former coal workers who have contracted the disease.
Additionally, the mining association asked lawmakers to temporarily cut in half the coal industry's payments to the Abandoned Mine Land Fund, which helps clean up mines that may be structurally unsound and risk polluting groundwater. The association argued that with $2.2 billion in the bank, the fund can withstand a drop in revenue.
The National Mining Association argued the industry will also need increased access to credit to stay afloat.
“Under pressure from environment groups, financial institutions have divested from carbon-intensive industries, specifically coal, over the last decade, leaving very limited options available to the coal industry,” the group wrote.