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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ROCKEFELLER. Mr. President, in West Virginia, we revere our miners--the men and women who put their lives on the line every single day to provide for their families and bring light and heat to millions. Their grit, their courage and their determination are inspirational to each of us. The work they do every day provides nearly half of our Nation with power and it helps underpin the economy of the State we call home.

For their hard work in these grueling jobs mineworkers receive promised pensions and lifetime health benefits. Health care for all retirees is important. But, in many cases, it is even more so for retired miners, who have stared the possibility of injury or illness in the face every day. Unfortunately, today there are looming threats to the pensions of more than 100,000 mineworkers and to the healthcare benefits of nearly 12,000 miners and their dependents.

The miners' pension fund is on the road to insolvency. It has been hit by the perfect storm--the recent financial crisis, the smaller number of active mineworkers who provide the funding base for the pension plan, and the large number of ``orphans'' who receive their pensions under the plan. These ``orphans'' are retired mineworkers for whom a company no longer makes contributions to the pension fund, typically because the company is out of business.

Additionally, the bankruptcy of one coal company is threatening the health benefits of nearly 12,000 miners and their dependents, the vast majority of whom never worked for the company that is actually going bankrupt. So despite the fact that they were promised lifetime healthcare benefits by their employers when they gave their lives to this industry doing the hardest work imaginable under that sacred pledge they are now losing those benefits because a company they never worked for is going bankrupt. That is unfair and unjust.

That is why today I am introducing the Coalfield Accountability and Retired Employee Act. This legislation protects pensions for more than 100,000 mineworkers by taking excess funds from the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program and transferring that money to the miners' 1974 pension plan. The Coalfield Accountability and Retired Employee Act also would protect retiree health benefits by making any retiree who loses benefits following the bankruptcy or insolvency of his or her employer eligible for the health benefits provided by the COAL Act. And, importantly this legislation would hold employers accountable for the commitments they make to their workers. That is just basic fairness.

Supporting our Nation's miners is not a new issue for our country and it is not a new fight of mine. Dating back to President Harry Truman, the Federal Government has assumed a responsibility to our mineworkers. In 1992, I was deeply proud to work on the passage of the COAL Act, through which we recommitted to our miners that a promise made would be a promise kept. That bill allowed the transfer of interest accruing to the unappropriated balance of the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to be used to provide health care for a large number of orphaned miners and their widows. This helped avert a nationwide coal strike and it preserved health benefits for 200,000 retired miners and their widows. This Federal commitment was renewed in the 2006 amendments to the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program that again protected the healthcare plans of miners from insolvency.

Now, 20 years after passing the COAL Act, I am again renewing my commitment to the hardest working people I have ever known with the Coalfield Accountability and Retired Employee Act. We must preserve the solvency of our miners' pension plans and protect the healthcare benefits they need, earned and were rightfully promised. This is about human decency, it is about doing what is right, and it is about having the backs of those who have ours deep underground.


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