More than 85,000 coal miner retirees and 20,000 working miners are at risk of losing all or part of their pension by 2022 if more coal companies declare bankruptcy.
Within the next four years, a handful of major coal-fired power plants in the Ohio Valley are expected to shut down. The Conesville coal generation facility in Ohio, and the Elmer Smith Plant and EW Brown Plant in Kentucky are both expected to close in 2020. In 2021, the Bruce Mansfield plant in Pennsylvania will close as well as the W.H. Sammis Power Plant in Ohio in 2022.
The Pleasants Power Station in West Virginia, originally expected to close this year, will remain open until 2022, according to FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young.
“In April 2018, FirstEnergy announced that it had reached an agreement in principle to transfer ownership of Pleasants Power Station to creditors in the bankruptcy of [First Energy Solutions] and its subsidiaries, and [FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company],” Young said.
“The agreement was approved by the bankruptcy court in late September. The settlement agreement was intended to fully release FirstEnergy and related parties from all claims.”
The fate of coal miners’ pensions have been in the balance since the 2008 recession when miners’ pension fund lost $2 billion, according to United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts. A series of bankruptcies after the recession cost the pension fund another $4 billion, according to Roberts.
In the event these miners do lose their pensions, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) will be tasked with ensuring they receive their pension. PBGC was created to protect retirement of nearly 37 million coal workers and retirees, according to their website.
The average pension benefit coal miner retirees receive is $600 a month. If the PBGC is unable to ensure miners that they will receive their pension, miners are at risk of losing 90 percent of their benefit.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, has introduced a bill that would transfer excess money from the Abandoned Mine Land fund to shore up pensions. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has co-sponsored the bill.
Brown said coal miners deserve to receive all of their pension money since many of the miners being affected gave up raises at the negotiating table in order to have their pensions.
“It’s up to us to ensure that these workers and their families receive the full benefits they earned over a lifetime of backbreaking work,” Brown said in a statement.
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Photo “Coal Miner” by I Support Coal Miners.