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Mountain West Coal Producer Strips Health Benefits For Retired Miners

Kym Farnik

As the demand for coal continues to decline in the U.S., two companies with mines in Montana and Wyoming are saving money by cutting worker benefits.

In a recent quarterly report, Cloud Peak Energy says it will end its post-retirement medical plan for coal miners.

“The company is facing some rough times right now and needs to reduce costs every way it can,” said Robert Godby, director for Energy Economics & Public Policies Center at the University of Wyoming.

According to Godby, medical benefits are expensive. They pose a future liability because Cloud Peak Energy needs to pay them out every year.

The company said the cuts will save them approximately $25 million dollars.

Westmoreland Coal Company also owns mines in Montana and Wyoming. They filed for bankruptcy earlier this month. According to the Casper Star-Tribune, it may also put the kibosh on post-retirement medical benefits as part of their reorganization.

But unlike Cloud Peak Energy, some of Westmoreland’s mines are unionized.

“A union could organize current employees to act on behalf of retirees because they’d be looking for their own interest in the future as well,” Godby said.

The union representing coal miners at Westmoreland has objected to the company’s reorganization plan. Demand for coal in the U.S. has declined due to the availability of cheaper natural gas and other renewables.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.