BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The lobbying arm of the U.S. coal industry is asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in royalty relief, tax cuts and other breaks to help companies ride out the financial crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. 

National Mining Association President Rich Nolan made the request in a letter sent this week to the White House and the leaders of the House and Senate. 

The benefits that Nolan asked Congress to provide could total more than $800 million a year for coal companies, based on last year's payments by the industry to the federal government.

The request includes a $220 million cut to a tax aimed at covering beneficiary payments for black lung disease in miners, a 50% cut in mine reclamation fees that would be worth $75 million, and suspending or eliminating royalty payments that totaled $527 million last year, according to the association.

Even before the current economic upheaval, the coal mining industry was in sharp decline as utilities across the nation switch to cleaner-burning natural gas and renewable energy sources.

With financial institutions under pressure from environmentalists to divest from coal, Nolan also said more access to credit was needed to help companies keep mines open. He described it as a matter of national security and said that without easier access to credit, operations at hundreds of mines employing tens of thousands of miners could be threatened.

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