OPINION: Mining Taxpayers’ Pockets for Private-Pension Relief – by Diana Furchtgott-Roth (Wall Street Journal – September 8, 2016)


Ms. Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Labor Department (2003-05), is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

If Congress bails out the United Mine Workers, others will come forward with their own claims.

After eight years of the Obama administration’s antagonism toward mining, the industry and its workers clearly need some relief.

The Miners Protection Act of 2015—sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) and co-sponsored by eight Republicans—would bail out the underfunded pension plan of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, and Chairman Orrin Hatch is likely to take it up later this month. While the legislation seems appealing at first glance, a closer look reveals that it’s no better than fool’s gold.

The bill would transfer $490 million in federal cash currently designated for mine reclamation to the UMWA’s pension coffers. However, the abandoned mines are not going away, and the law that authorizes the federal government to put these mines in order has not been repealed. Mr. Manchin simply wants to siphon off federal money, which belongs to all taxpayers, to private pensions.

During a speech on the Senate floor in July, the West Virginia Democrat argued that the government has an obligation to protect miners’ health and retirement funds. He suggested that the 1946 Krug-Lewis agreement between the federal government and the United Mine Workers of America “created the promise of health benefits and retirement security for our Nation’s miners.”

But Krug-Lewis, which was enacted after the government nationalized America’s mines, only covered the period when the federal government owned the mines—May 29, 1946, to June 30, 1947. On July 1, 1947, the mines reverted to the private economy, and miners’ compensation was regulated by an agreement between the union and the owners.

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