July 23, 2020

Duckworth Introduces Bill to Invest in Coal Workers and Revitalize Coal Communities

UMWA-endorsed legislation takes a systematic approach to addressing the immediate and long-term economic and environmental impacts of a coal mine or coal power plant closure


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – With alternatives to coal continuing to gain market share, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) today introduced a bill to help ensure that coal workers and coal communities around the country have the resources they need to transition local economies to 21st Century alternatives. When a coal power plant or mine closes, its community loses skilled workers, high-paying jobs and major contributions to local tax revenue, which can result in a negative spiral and threaten the future of affected communities. Duckworth’s Marshall Plan for Coal Country Act would tackle these challenges by making significant investments in the overall health and economic security of these communities, including expanding Medicare to all coal workers who have lost their jobs, making higher education free for all coal workers and their families, helping coal communities access federal resources and navigate the federal bureaucracy, establishing a Coal Community Home Buying Program, helping restore the environment of coal communities and much more.

“For centuries, our nation has relied on the sacrifices made by coal country—and coal workers—to industrialize and power our nation with affordable energy,” Duckworth said. “Mineworkers spent their days in difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions to provide a good life for their families and help the rest of our country succeed. We can’t afford to leave them behind, which is why I’m introducing legislation to invest in their health and economic security while restoring and securing the future of their communities.”

“This is the first legislation we have seen that takes aim at the tremendous economic problems that already exist in the coalfields of America,” United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “Coal-producing areas of our nation have taken a pounding, and it is not getting any better. Senator Duckworth’s bill is comprehensive and includes several programs and initiatives that would have strong, positive impacts on economically depressed communities in the coalfields, as well as dislocated workers and their families.”

“We have a responsibility to ensure that the mine workers, who powered our industrial rise, built the arsenal of democracy, and fueled America’s economic prosperity, have good-paying jobs and work reclaiming abandoned mines, restoring wildlife habitat, reducing pollution, and revitalizing coal communities,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Senator Duckworth’s Marshall Plan for Coal Country Act of 2020 keeps faith with these ideas and underscores that we can create hundreds of thousands of jobs reclaiming abandoned mine lands, sequestering carbon through nature and technology, restoring wildlife habitat, and rejuvenating coal communities. The Senate should swiftly take up this commonsense bill and ensure mining communities play a critical role in our efforts to rebuild our economy and act on climate.”

Specifically, the Marshall Plan for Coal Country Act would:

  • Provide Medicare to all coal workers who have lost their job at a coal mine or coal power plant, which would ensure that these workers have access to life-saving and critical healthcare since they have faced unique health challenges from exposure to dust, heavy metals, hazardous gases and fumes.
  • Make higher education tuition-free for coal workers and their families, including the cost of tuition and fees to earn an associate, technical or bachelor’s degree.
  • Modify U.S bankruptcy rules to require that coal companies pay expenses for healthcare, pension benefits and costs to restore the environment before paying themselves so that executive pay can no longer be placed ahead of responsibilities to the communities and workers that sacrificed their health and environment.
  • Restore the environment of coal communities by providing any coal power plant with eight years of operational life left with federally-subsidized carbon capture capabilities to reduce carbon emissions, investing in abandoned mine land reclamation and providing loans to pipeline developers for the purpose of carrying captured carbon to geologic repositories like those found in the Illinois basin.
  • Reform the way the federal government administers assistance by creating an Office of Economic Development at the Department of Energy (DOE) that would place a federal grant coordinator within each coal community and be responsible for bringing federal assistance to the area. These specialists will work in a community for a minimum of ten years. Currently, coal communities with scarce resources are expected to be able to navigate the federal bureaucracy by themselves in order to determine what resources they are eligible for.
  • Stabilize coal communities’ economies by increasing the federal minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour, establishing a Coal Community Home Buying Program to attract homeowners and maintain the property value for existing residents, reestablishing tax credits aimed at spurring new energy development in these specific communities and giving the goods manufactured in coal country federal purchasing preference. The legislation would also require that coal plants are decommissioned, something required currently of nuclear power plants.

Last month, Duckworth, along with U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tom Carper (D-DE), welcomed the development of a historic National Economic Transition (NET) platform published by local, regional and national organizations to give policymakers recommendations for an ambitious national transition program that supports the people and places hit hardest by our changing energy landscape. Duckworth also helped reintroduce the Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More (RECLAIM) Act last year, which would support economic and community development opportunities in impacted coal communities. Duckworth met with retired members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in 2018 to discuss the critical importance of protecting their pensions.