Last week, we achieved the success that thousands of retired coal miners and their families so desperately needed with the passage of my proposal to permanently extend their health care benefits. And with President Trump’s signature, it is now law. You may recall that at the end of December, their health benefits were set to expire.
If Congress had not acted, approximately 3,000 Kentucky coal miner retirees – and tens of thousands more around the country – would have seen their health care benefits end. After years of hard work in the coal mines, they deserved better than having to suffer as collateral damage of President Obama’s War on Coal.
A retired coal miner from Georgetown contacted my office last week. He suffers from diabetes and heart disease, and his wife is a breast cancer survivor. He told me that, “[t]here is no question of whether or not we need our health insurance to continue. Without it, we would probably lose our home.”
This is just one of the stories I’ve heard during meetings and phone calls from retired miners and their families.
As the senior senator from Kentucky, I’ve met with these retired miners numerous times, and I’ve heard their concerns. That’s why when Congress passed funding legislation, I ensured it included my proposal to permanently extend health care benefits for thousands of retirees across the nation and in Kentucky.
This permanent fix followed bipartisan efforts last year to ensure the benefits did not lapse. I made a commitment to these coal miner retirees that I would continue to fight for a permanent solution to this problem. And now I am proud to say that after working directly with House Speaker Ryan and the President, I was able to secure this long-term victory for retired coal miners in Kentucky.
But there is more critical work to be done, and it’s important to remember how we got to this point.
Coal miners across Kentucky and throughout the country have suffered the consequences of President Obama’s anti-coal policies. For eight years, the previous Administration’s overregulation – which was protected and reinforced by most Senate Democrats – devastated Kentucky coal communities by contributing to mine closures and significant job losses.
These miners became the victims of the left’s agenda to shut down the business that provided their paychecks. I refused to leave them helpless, and I am proud to have secured a permanent extension of their health benefits.
Throughout my career, I have been committed to working on behalf of Kentucky’s coal jobs and coal communities, and this dedication continues today in my position as Senate Majority Leader. Earlier this year, I sent a letter to then President-Elect Trump about what his Administration could do – along with Congress – to help lift the burdens of coal communities in Kentucky. Together, President Trump and I have reversed several anti-coal policies from the previous Administration, including the Stream Buffer Rule, which put one-third of coal related jobs at risk, and the so-called Clean Power Plan, which aimed to close existing coal plants and prevent new ones from ever being built. I am proud of our victories for coal miners, and I look forward to working with the Administration to continue that effort.
In addition to supporting miners and their families, I am working to protect the land and communities even after coal mining activities have ceased. Last year, I worked with Congressman Hal Rogers to launch a pilot program to provide funding for the reclamation and development of abandoned mine sites. Because of its success, we worked to maintain the program in this year’s appropriations bill. Additionally, in March we introduced the RECLAIM Act of 2017 to build on the pilot by releasing $1 billion in funding over five years to coal states for the cleanup and development of abandoned mine sites. This bill is part of my ongoing efforts to support reclamation activities that restore the land’s beauty and help diversify the economy in some of Kentucky’s hardest-hit communities. Over the past several years, I have also been proud to secure federal funds for economic development, job training, and infrastructure projects for Kentucky coal communities.
Last week’s success is just one way I have worked and will continue to work for coal miners, their families, and their communities. As long as I am a Senator, I will fight against those who want to close mines and kill mining jobs. I look forward to continuing to work with the Trump Administration and my colleagues in Congress to protect Kentucky coal communities.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is the Senate majority leader.