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Government needs to take care of coal miners’ problems it caused

Coal miners understand taking responsibility for one’s actions. They also share a concern in watching out for one’s co-workers.

Some of those retired from the mines must be bewildered that so many in federal government do not have those values.

For decades, mining coal was among the most financially stable of occupations. The pay was good. Retirement and health care benefits were something on which one could rely.

That is not the case now. Tens of thousands of retired miners and their families worry they may be left out in the cold.

Many analysts say the coal industry is in trouble for several reasons. High on the list are two factors, they say: First, the shale drilling revolution made natural gas much cheaper, competitive with coal as a power plant fuel. Second, government action has made it much more expensive to mine and burn coal.

In reality, the two are one. Draconian new federal regulations already implemented and on the horizon have forced up the cost of using coal to generate electricity. Had those costs not skyrocketed, it is likely gas would not be competitive for generating power.

Blame Uncle Sam for most of the mining industry’s problems, in other words.

Many coal companies, including some giants, have had to file for bankruptcy protection. Some are gone for good.

That has meant payments companies once made to support pension and health care benefits for retired miners have dwindled. Within a few years, the funds may be exhausted, leaving an estimated 120,000 retirees and their families destitute.

In recognition of government’s role in the meltdown, some in Congress are suggesting a federal bailout of the retiree health care and pension programs.

Such assistance often is not appropriate. When a company or industry fails due solely to market forces, lawmakers should be leery of bailouts.

But this one was not a death of natural causes. Coal, and with it affordable electricity, are being strangled by the federal government. That means Washington bears responsibility to help the mine retirees – not let the roof cave in on them.