UPDATE 1-U.S. Senator Duckworth floats plan to rescue coal country

(Adds comments from Duckworth in para 3)

WASHINGTON, July 23 (Reuters) - Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth on Thursday unveiled a plan to rehabilitate communities hurt by the decline of the U.S. coal industry - an appeal to a political constituency seen as important in the November election.

The bill would direct investment to communities reeling from closures of mines and coal-fired power plants in recent years, to create new jobs and help them grapple with issues like opiod addiction and black lung disease, she said.

“We can’t just tell these communities to let go of coal,” said Duckworth, who is one of several women vetted as a possible running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, in an interview. “We have to invest in their economic security... and for the right of their children and grandchildren to have an economic future that is viable.”

The bill would expand Medicare to laid-off coal workers, guarantee free higher education for miners and their families, provide federal homebuying assistance and create a redevelopment office. Cost estimates were not immediately available.

United Mineworkers of America President Cecil Roberts called on senators from both parties to adopt the legislation.

Coal has struggled to compete against cheap natural gas and renewable energy despite efforts by the Trump administration to prop it up by rolling back Obama-era climate regulation. U.S. coal-fired power plants shut down at the second-fastest pace on record in 2019, according to a Reuters review of federal data.

Other policies include revising bankruptcy rules to require coal companies to pay for workers’ health and pensions and clean up mines before they compensate executives. It would also provide incentives for some coal plants to install carbon capture technology.

The bill does not yet have any co-sponsors but Duckworth thinks it will get traction in Congress if Biden wins the election because it is compatible with his energy policy. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)