By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Coal mining executive Robert Murray, one of Donald Trump's biggest campaign backers, said on Friday he wants the president-elect to support a bill that would protect the health and pension benefits of thousands of coal miners retired from companies that have gone bust.
The outspoken founder of Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp said he has asked Trump, who campaigned on a promise to help the coal industry, to speak out on behalf of the spending bill provision currently tied up in Congress.
"I asked him and Vice President-elect Mike Pence to be involved verbally and in writing," Murray told Reuters in an interview. Murray said he has not yet heard back.
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A Trump transition official did not respond to a request for comment.
Murray Energy was among the biggest contributors to Trump's bid for the presidency. Its $100,000 donation to the Trump Victory PAC was the PAC's largest from a company, according to Trump's fundraising committee's latest filing. Murray also hosted fundraisers for the Republican candidate.
On the campaign trail, Trump won over coal-producing states by promising to revive the sector, put laid-off miners back to work, and scrap regulations that he said are hobbling the industry.
Coal prices have sunk in recent years due to competition from cheap natural gas and rules to combat climate change ushered in by President Barack Obama.
The Senate is now contemplating a spending bill that contains a provision to extend the benefits of retired coal miners whose companies have gone bankrupt until next April, but some coal state Democratic senators are agitating for a longer-term solution and threatening a government shutdown. A group of Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, are resisting, and the bill is in limbo.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday that the Obama administration hopes "there should be bipartisan common ground to address the needs of these 20,000 coal miners who are slated to lose their health insurance at the end of the month."
Dozens of United Mine Worker retired miners have been on Capitol Hill this week holding rallies and visiting lawmakers to urge them to pass a longer-term solution.
UMWA spokesman Phil Smith said the Trump transition team is aware of the issue but has not said anything publicly.
As one of just a handful of U.S. coal companies that has not declared bankruptcy, Murray said his company is struggling to pay into its health and pension funds and "can't compete with those companies that didn't go through bankruptcy proceedings."
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Leslie Adler)