November 6, 2015 / 3:53 AM / 4 years ago

Bankrupt coal company Alpha seeks to drop miner benefits

WASHINGTON, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Alpha Natural Resources, one of the largest U.S. coal companies, wants to drop benefits for more than 4,500 miners, spouses and their dependants, according to bankruptcy court paperwork filed this week.

That step would erase roughly $125 million in obligations for the Virginia-based company as it tries to mollify creditors stung by the company’s bankruptcy filing in August, according to court filings.

But the move would also erase life insurance and health benefits for about 4,580 non-union retirees, disabled former workers and their families, the company said in its filing with a bankruptcy court in Richmond.

The company has asked permission to drop benefits such as “hospital, medical, prescription, surgical and life insurance” at the end of December, according to a court filing that was lodged on Tuesday.

Declining global demand for coal and new, anti-pollution regulations have dented to domestic industry and pushed several companies towards insolvency.

In recent weeks, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said coal companies that face financial strain must still protect miners’ welfare.

Coal industry woes have also raised questions about mine cleanup.

Federal law requires coal companies to have financing available to restore mined land in the event of bankruptcy but taxpayers could stand to cover hundreds of millions of dollars of future cleanup through a program called ‘self bonding’ that is under review by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. (Reporting by Patrick Rucker; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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