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America's largest coal miners union asks Manchin to reconsider opposition to Build Back Better

Democrats to move ahead on Build Back Better
Democrats plan to move ahead with Build Back Better bill despite Manchin's opposition 09:48

Coal miners are imploring Senator Joe Manchin to reconsider his opposition to the Build Back Better Act, citing parts of the legislation that would benefit industry workers.

"[W]e are disappointed that the bill will not pass," Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America International, said in a statement. "We urge Senator Manchin to revisit his opposition to this legislation and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working, and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families, and their communities."

According to the union, elements of the bill that would help coal industry workers include tax incentives to encourage clean-energy companies to build facilities in coalfields; an extension of fees paid by coal companies to workers who contract Black Lung; and financial penalties for companies that block their workforce from unionizing.

Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said on Sunday that he couldn't support the legislation, an ambitious package of social policies including prolonging the Child Tax Credit, expanding Medicare to cover more services, instituting paid employee leave, subsidizing child care and early-childhood education and investing in clean energy.

"Despite my best efforts, I cannot explain the sweeping Build Back Better Act in West Virginia and I cannot vote to move forward on this mammoth piece of legislation," Manchin said in a statement.

Manchin's opposition, along with that of Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D.-Arizona, effectively scuttles the Biden administration's hopes of passing Build Back Better by year-end.

Among Manchin's objections are that the bill would "risk the reliability of our electric grid and increase our dependence on foreign supply chains," he said. Manchin also claimed that shifting to clean energy too quickly would lead to "catastrophic consequences," citing Texas and California as examples of states experiencing energy issues. 

Breaking down Manchin's opposition to the "Build Back Better" plan 05:24

Scientists say that the world has less than a decade to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, industrial processes and agriculture in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Last year, the miners' union endorsed a plan to transition to clean energy while retraining coal miners for clean-energy jobs, saying, "Change is coming, whether we seek it or not." The union's program includes retraining displaced coal workers, building out clean-energy facilities in coalfields, and investing in carbon capture and storage technology.

After the UMWA's critique, Manchin's office told CBS MoneyWatch that the senator supports extending black lung benefits, pointing to his efforts to secure a 10-year extension of the black lung excise tax. Without legislative action, the tax on coal will drop by half next year, pushing the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund that pays for affected miners' health benefits further into debt.

"Senator Manchin has always been a strong advocate for the UMWA and led legislation to address the black lung excise tax expiration. He will of course continue to work to shore up the black lung excise tax in the New Year to address the needs of our brave miners," a spokesperson for the senator said in a statement.

About 14,000 West Virginians worked in coal extraction last year, according to the U.S. Energy and Employment Report. Nationwide, about 130,000 people work in coal mines or coal-fired power plants. By comparison, more than 350,000 work in solar or wind power generation, although very few of those workers are in West Virginia. 

Much of Manchin's personal wealth is linked to coal. According to OpenSecrets, which tracks money in politics, he made about $5 million from coal companies over the past decade. In 2020, he made between $591,950 and $1.5 million from Energystems, a coal brokerage company Manchin founded and ran, and had holdings of between $1.4 million and $5.8 million in coal companies, OpenSecrets found.

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