By using interest earned on AML funds that coal companies already set aside for the reclamation of abandoned mine sites, we were able to make sure taxpayers are not on the hook for miners' health care benefits while also preserving the reclamation goals of the underlying AML fund.
Today we're in a position to use this successful approach again. And that's just what I'm pushing for on behalf of thousands of West Virginians facing the very real possibility of seeing their pension fund become insolvent and losing their retiree health care benefits altogether unless Congress takes action.
The UMWA pension plan, which provides benefits to 111,550 miners and retirees nationwide including 35,170 in West Virginia, is on the verge of insolvency largely because of the 2008 financial crisis. Another plan that provides retiree health care benefits to a newer generation of miners is at risk because of the recent bankruptcy filing of Patriot Coal Corporation.
Through spin-offs and acquisitions, Patriot assumed responsibility for health care benefits of thousands of retirees. Most of them have never worked for Patriot, and through no fault of their own have seen their benefits placed at risk because of the company's bankruptcy.
Should Patriot shed its obligations to retirees -- which I've told the company would be severely unjust -- the health benefit plan many of these retirees would be eligible for wouldn't be able to assume the added costs.
That means 7,000 West Virginians -- Patriot beneficiaries and others under the plan -- would lose their health care coverage.
We simply can't let that happen. We can't go back on our word to coal miners who have worked their entire careers under the promise of a secure retirement and lifetime health care benefits. That's why I pledged to the retirees to do everything possible to help.
I've already introduced a proposal to shore up the pension plan by using interest earned on AML funds. And I'm working hard on additional solutions to hold employers accountable for the promises they make to their retirees, and to protect benefits for retired miners when their companies go bankrupt.
This is a new fight in a decades-long effort to make sure our miners and their loved ones get the benefits they worked for, count on and absolutely deserve. Passage of the Coal Act 20 years ago was a profoundly important moment -- one I am proud and humbled to have led -- that preserved a deeply sacred pledge to the hardest working people I've ever known.
Today brings another challenge -- and another opportunity to carry that promise forward.