There is an alarming increase the number of coal miners—including younger and younger miners—diagnosed with deadly black lung disease. But a proposed federal rule limiting miners’ exposure to the coal dust that causes black lung is stuck in regulatory limbo and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has urged President Obama to end the delays and move the rule “as expeditiously as possible.”
The coal dust rule, along with two other mine safety rules to prevent miners from being crushed by underground mining equipment, has been pending since 2010. Citing reports from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that document the rise of black lung cases, Rockefeller writes in his letter to Obama:
This disease is back and will not go away unless we make it a priority and act.
Mine Workers (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts praised Rockefeller’s action and said:
We know what causes black lung and we know how to prevent it. The delay in implementing limits to miners’ exposure to respirable coal dust puts more and more miners at risk every day....We join Sen. Rockefeller in urging the administration to get moving, and take action to save miners' lives.
The first delay in the black lung rule came in 2011, when House Republicans inserted a rider into the labor appropriations bill that banned the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) from moving on the rule. That ban ended in 2012, but the rule has yet to move forward.
On top of the growing number of black lung cases, a joint investigation by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity, with additional reporting by The Charleston Gazette last year, documented widespread industry-cheating on coal-dust controls and repeated inaction by regulators to try to end the disease.
No miner should have to face the destructive effects of black lung. This heart-wrench disease has hurt too many miners, their families and communities. We must act now.
Rockefeller's letter comes just days after AFL-CIO Health and Safety Director Peg Seminario told a U.S. Senate committee that the current system for developing and implanting workplace safety rules is “broken and dysfunctional,” delaying for years critical worker safety and health rules.
The impact of these delays is inadequate protection for workers and leads to unnecessary deaths, injuries and illnesses.