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The mining industry is suffering from an infection of government regulations inflicted by the Obama Administration. The immediate casualties are the thousands of miners who have been laid off in Wyoming and across the country."

The mining industry is suffering from an infection of government regulations inflicted by the Obama Administration. The immediate casualties are the thousands of miners who have been laid off in Wyoming and across the country.

Some politicians and union members are trying to take advantage of the situation to pass legislation that includes a bailout of the United Mine Workers of America’s (UMWA) underfunded pension plan. While it might appear that moving taxpayer dollars into the pension plan with the Miners Protection Act of 2015 would be a worthy cause, in reality it would be a dangerous treatment that wouldn’t cure the disease.

One of the most risky aspects of this legislation is the precedent it would set. This bill would only bailout one of the 1,238 union pension plans that we know are underfunded. There are already twenty other multiemployer pension plans that are slated to become insolvent before the UMWA pension plan does. If we bail out the UMWA pension, what is to stop the other pensions from coming to the federal government asking for billions of dollars in funding to bail them out?

Some of my colleagues try to differentiate this case by speaking about the Krug-Lewis agreement between the federal government and the UMWA that that set up health benefits and retirement security for members. According to a legal opinion from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, that agreement only was relevant for the period of time from May 1946 to June 1947 when the federal government happened to take ownership of the mines. The fact is that the UMWA pension plan is a private agreement made between the members and the UMWA and is not guaranteed by the federal government.

This legislation also intends to use money from the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation (AML) fund to cover the cost of the bailout. But there isn’t any extra money in that fund, which means that the government would have to resort to using general taxpayer dollars instead of money from the AML trust fund. Our country is already $19 trillion dollars in debt and can’t afford to dig itself deeper. This means we would be putting into law a promise that we cannot keep.

On top of that, there is already a program designed for pension plans that become insolvent. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) is designed to be an insurance program that corporations pay into, and if they can’t pay their pension promises the PBGC is designed to provide some support to beneficiaries. Now the PBGC doesn’t have enough money to cover all the unfunded pension plans. This is serious issue that needs to be addressed, but it would be irresponsible if the government tries to bailout all the pension funds individually without regard for the PBGC.

We should be concerned about pensions for coal miners — but all coal miners. The UMWA represent only a small number of coal workers in America. The UMWA pension problem is happening now because of forces, including federal policies, that are putting mines out of business and miners out of work. The only way to make miners whole is to give them their jobs back. Retraining will help, but will not solve this problem. The jobs they will be trained for are not likely to pay nearly as well as the ones they previously held. As an opinion piece that appeared in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month noted, “The best way for the next president to help is to end President Obama’s vendetta against the coal industry”. 

Miners deserve respect and appreciation. Those who choose to join a union deserve one that keeps its promises and a government that doesn’t target their jobs for extermination. There are thousands of non-union miners who deserve the same respect and fair treatment. There are also thousands of other workers who aren’t miners, but who are also depending on shaky pension plans. They are in the same boat as these union miners. I don’t blame the miners who are worried about their future, but there are people in similar situations who aren’t part of the UMWA. I do blame President Obama and those who support his policies, such as Hillary Clinton. These policies put coal miners out of work and close businesses. They shouldn’t try to pretend now that they are any kind of a friend to mining or miners.