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The coal industry, which has been in a free fall in Kentucky and nationally, was left out of a $2.2 trillion bill passed by lawmakers and signed by President Trump Friday that seeks to rescue the country from the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

But the industry’s requests — relief on taxes supporting abandoned mine cleanup and workers stricken with black lung disease — were not new, and an industry spokesman said it will keep requesting them.

The industry also asked for a reduction in royalty payments to the federal treasury for coal mined from federal lands.

Congress in December had fully restored the excise tax on coal that funds benefits to coal miners with black lung disease.

“It’s essential that policymakers thoughtfully consider ways to ensure the coal sector can provide uninterrupted operations,” said Conor Bernstein, spokesman for the National Mining Association.

Friday, Bernstein said the bill has some tax provisions that will help all industries, including mining.

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Miners at the newly reopened Kingdom Coal mine in Knott County work on repairing a belt in a ceiling fall area. Miners in the area are optimistic following Trump’s election that mining operations may begin to reopen in Appalachia. March 8, 2017
Alton Strupp/Courier Journal

“We will keep making the case for more specific action as the government continues to look for ways to support critical industries and lift the economy.”

Coal provided 23.5 percent of the nation’s electricity last year, down from 46 percent in 2010, and Kentucky has fallen from third to fifth among the largest coal-producing states, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who sees himself as a friend of the coal industry, provided only a one-sentence response to questions about what happened to the mining industry’s request.

McConnell has been “working hard” to help coal families and employers, the spokesman said.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined by the GOP leadership, arrives to speak to reporters just after meeting with Attorney General William Barr to discuss expiring provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and other government intelligence laws, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite, AP

Advocates for coal miners were incensed by what the mining industry had asked for.

Rebecca Shelton, with the Appalachian Citizen Law Center in eastern Kentucky, called the National Mining Association’s request “particularly egregious” because “those with black lung disease are likely to be very vulnerable to COVID-19, and yet the industry wants to reduce funding for the trust fund that many miners with black lung disease rely upon.”

The coal industry has experienced waves of bankruptcies and consolidations as it has struggled to compete with cheaper natural gas and increasingly less expensive wind and solar energy, said Chiza Vitta, an analyst with S&P Global Ratings.

As such, it is not a typical candidate for a bailout, he said.

“Normally, you give bailouts to companies that can thrive going forward,” Vitta said.

In Kentucky, the number of coal mining jobs has fallen about 70 percent since 2010, from 17,696 to 5,190 last year, according to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.

There were about 51,000 coal mining jobs nationally in December, about the same as when President Donald Trump took office in 2017, promising to restore the industry.

The United Mine Workers of America on Thursday also called on the Trump administration to protect coal miners from the spread of the coronavirus.

“Coal miners, when they go to work, they all congregate in a relatively confined space,” said Phil Smith, the union’s spokesman.

Companies have not been following federal guidelines for social distancing, he said, and the union has asked the Mine Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency standard to increase their protections.