CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A key Obama administration proposal aimed at ending deadly black lung disease appears to be stalled at the Labor Department, but agency officials won't explain any details about the rule's status.
It's been nearly two months since the federal Government Accountability Office issued a major report that supported the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration's proposal to toughen coal dust limits to fight a resurgence of black lung.
That GAO report's findings ended a block by congressional Republicans on issuance of the final MSHA rule, which was proposed two years ago, in October 2010.
In an interview published this week in the United Mine Workers Journal, MSHA chief Joe Main indicated that his agency had completed work on a final version of the rule.
"We have finalized our work here," Main told the Journal. "It's moving through the next level, but that does take some time."
Government records indicate that the black lung rule has not yet reached the White House Office of Management and Budget, which must review it before a final version can be issued. Such a rule would typically go to the Labor Department, MSHA's parent agency, before being sent to the White House for final review.
During a brief interview Wednesday in Charleston, Main declined to provide any specifics about the status of the rule.
"It's going through the process," Main said. "It's still in the process."
Main, a former union safety director, said he had not seen the UMW Journal article and, therefore, would not comment on it. Asked when the administration plans to issue a final rule, and if it would act before next month's general election, Main said, "I don't know when we'll see it."
Black lung, or coal workers' pneumoconiosis, is an irreversible and potentially deadly disease caused by exposure to coal dust.