Black lung funding cut will cost taxpayers billions

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (AP) – A cut to the tax coal companies pay to fund a trust for sick miners will cost taxpayers at least USD15 billion by 2050, according to a new report from a national watchdog group.

An excise tax rate on mined coal that funds the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund expired at the beginning of 2019 due to inaction by Congress. That led to a reduction in the amount coal companies pay into the fund, which pays benefits and medical bills for miners diagnosed with black lung disease.

“By failing to extend the excise tax, Congress is shifting billions of dollars in liabilities from coal companies to taxpayers,” said Autumn Hanna, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. The Washington-based group released a report yesterday that said the fund’s debt could be as high as USD26 billion by 2050.

The United States (US) Department of Labour earlier this year confirmed to The Associated Press that a funding shortfall in the Black Lung Trust Fund would be covered by borrowing from the US Treasury.

A excise tax rate of USD1.10 per tonne of underground mined coal was cut by more than half to about 50 cents in the new year. The fund took in about USD450 million in revenue in fiscal year 2017.

The mining industry supported the higher tax rate’s expiration.

Black lung disease, or pneumoconiosis, is caused by inhaling dust in the lungs and has no cure. It has killed about 78,000 miners since 1968.

A excise tax rate of USD1.10 per ton of underground mined coal was cut by more than half to about 50 cents in the new year