Energy Environment

The Other Coal Industry Bailout

Written by SK Ashby

While the Trump regime is planning to bail out the coal industry by ordering regional regulators to purchase electricity from power plants that are due for retirement, there's another coal industry bailout coming that will be engineered by our Republican-controlled Congress.

Republicans are allowing a tax increase that's been in place for 40 years to expire and, as a result, the industry will require a bailout.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund will require a bailout of $7.8 billion next year if Congress doesn't renew the tax.

Coal companies are currently required to pay a $1.10 per ton tax on underground coal production to finance the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which pays medical and living expenses for eligible miners, but that amount is scheduled to revert back to the 1977 level of 50 cents. [...]

The fund that helps them is already roughly $6 billion in debt, as revenues since it was created in the 1970s have failed to keep up with outflows. That debt could balloon to $15 billion by 2050 without Congressional action, the GAO report said.

The GAO offered three options to try to improve the solvency of the fund: extend the current excise tax rate to reduce the debt to $4.5 billion debt by 2050, increase the current tax rate by approximately 25 percent to eliminate the debt entirely by 2050, or allow the tax rate to sunset as scheduled, cancel the current debt, and appropriate $7.8 billion to the Fund.

Cases of black lung has skyrocketed over the last two years to the highest levels since the 1980s for reasons that aren't entirely clear but experts believe are a result of increasingly desperate measures used to reach coal deposits in old mines that are nearly depleted. A recent NPR investigation also found that modern mining machines used to reach coal deposits in old mines are creating dust that includes contains silica, leading to more and worse cases of black lung.

I can only imagine the extent of the damage that will be done before the Trump regime is finally finished.

Meanwhile, on the subject of Trump's order to bail out coal plants, environmental and industry groups are already threatening legal action before the order has been formally given.

"This is an outrageous ploy to force American taxpayers to bail out coal and nuclear executives who have made bad decisions by investing in dirty and dangerous energy resources, and it will be soundly defeated both in the courts and in the court of public opinion," Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, said in a statement.

Industry groups representing oil, natural gas, renewable energy and energy storage sectors also slammed the proposal.

"The Administration's draft plan to provide government assistance to those coal and nuclear power plants that are struggling to be profitable under the guise of national security would be unprecedented and misguided," said Todd Snitchler, market development group director for the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's main lobbying group.

PJM-Interconnection, the regional regulator that controls the energy market in 13 states and Washington D.C. itself, also says Trump's order to buy electricity from specific coal-fired and nuclear power plants would be "damaging to the markets and therefore costly to consumers."