Coal Tattoo

Rep. Nick J. Rahall’s House Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hear testimony tomorrow morning on a Rahall bill that would allow the transfer of money from the federal Abandoned Mine Land Fund to bail out the troubled United Mine Workers of America pension plan.

Rahall, a longtime friend of the UMWA, quietly introduced the legislation, H.R. 5479, last week. He called it the “Coal Accountability and Retired Employee Act of 2010.”

Basically, it would extend the existing practice of transferring money needed for the UMWA’s retiree health-care plan so that AML funds can also be sent to the union’s pension plan. The health-care transfers — the largest of many diversions of AML money for other purposes — have been going on since 1996, as we explained in our 2004 series on the mine cleanup program.

The UMWA pension plan covers about 120,000 current and former UMWA members, and union President Cecil Roberts is scheduled to testify in favor of Rahall’s legislation at tomorrow’s hearing.

Rahall is seeking to protect the pension plan, which lost more than one-fifth of its assets to the financial crisis that began in 2007, and to avoid major labor disruptions that could occur if operators are asked to greatly increase their contributions when the existing UMWA national contract expires at the end of 2011.