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Walter Energy Retirees Keep Benefits, DOJ Investigating Blue Bell

Walter Energy
Walter Energy No. 4 mine in Brookwood, Ala.

Thousands of workers who had lost their retirement benefits in the wake of Walter Energy’s bankruptcy will soon be getting them back.

The Birmingham Business Journal reports that federal agency Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation will be taking over paying benefits for more than 2700 current and future retirees of Hoover-based Walter Energy.

The agency is stepping in as Walter plans to sell the majority of its assets. The company has had a hard time finding buyers, and any potential buyers say they won’t take over the pension plan.

Walter Energy recently laid off over 300 workers at its No. 4 mine in Brookwood. In mid-2015 the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing a historic drop in coal prices. The company is the largest U.S. producer of coking coal, used to make steel.

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating an outbreak of listeria involving Blue Bell ice cream. APR’s Pat Duggins reports the probe has implications here in Alabama.

Blue Bell Ice Cream’s plant in Sylacauga was among those shut down due to the presence of listeria. The U.S. Justice Department wants to know when company officials knew the potentially dangerous bacterial outbreak was present and how Blue Bell responded.

Records indicate that the company knew one plant was contaminated at least as early as 2013. The ice cream maker shut down all of its factories in April. The Food and Drug Administration later confirmed listeria in all of Blue Bell’s plants, including the one in Alabama.

The DOJ is cracking down on companies that produce dangerous food products. The former owner of Peanut Corporation of America was sentenced to 28 years in prison after being convicted of covering up an deadly outbreak of Salmonella.

Alabama’s football team is beginning work on the Clemson Tigers in advance of next week’s National Championship game in Arizona. The Crimson Tide had no trouble with Michigan State, defeating the Spartans 38-to-nothing in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Coach Nick Saban says his team learned a lot from last year’s defeat to Ohio State in the College Football Playoff. Because of that lesson, his team now has a chance to win its 16th National Championship next week.

“I think last year when we came to this game, we were happy just to take part in the game. I think this year we wanted to sort of take the game. And really thought our guys had a vision of what they wanted and everybody paid the price for what they had to do in preparation.”

Alabama now faces off against an undefeated Clemson team led by former Alabama wide receiver Dabo Swinney. Kickoff from University of Phoenix Stadium is set for 7:30 on January 11th on ESPN.

Alabama lawmakers will likely debate a potential increase in the state's gasoline tax soon to pay for road and bridge construction. If enacted, it would be the first raise in the state gas tax since 1992.

The Alabama Legislature's Joint Transportation Committee will hold five meetings around the state this month to discuss the idea.

Rep. Mac McCutcheon, the chairman of the committee, said lawmakers want to get input from citizens before heading into the next legislative session in February.

A bill introduced in the recent special session would have raised the tax by 5 cents per gallon with room to adjust the tax up or down by 2 cents each year, depending on consumer prices and other factors. But the bill never saw a floor vote.

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