By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON, March 19 (Reuters) - The coal industry's main U.S. lobby group has asked for sweeping financial assistance to help mining companies weather the economic fallout of the coronavirus, according to a letter to President Donald Trump and the leaders of Congress seen by Reuters on Thursday.
The request adds the ailing coal industry to a long list of businesses vying for a bailout to counter the impact of the global pandemic, which has infected more than 227,000 people worldwide, decimated travel and forced massive disruptions in daily life around the world.
In the letter, dated on Wednesday, the National Mining Association asked Trump, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to ensure that "coal companies have access to the necessary cash flow they need to continue operations."
It asked for Trump to take executive action to keep coal-fired power plants running, and asked Congress to "suspend or reduce" royalties on mining and cut taxes and fees the industry pays for things like health assistance to victims of black lung disease and cleanups of former mines.
"The fuel security provided by coal reserves at power plants offers resiliency to a system that is bracing for uncertainty, and it is imperative to keep these plants online — whether through the use of the Defense Production Act or other means — in the interest of national security," NMA President Rich Nolan wrote in the letter.
The White House, Pelosi and McConnell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The coal industry has sought several federal interventions to help it reverse a slide in demand over the past decade as aging plants retire. The Trump administration has attempted without much success to help the industry, in part by rolling back Obama-era climate regulations.
The Defense Production Act is a law enacted in 1950 during the Korean War that allows the government to direct private companies to produce certain goods to meet the nation's national security needs.
The NMA also asked for the coal industry to have access to credit "without prejudice."
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Peter Cooney)