A new rule on how to handle increased enforcement at mining operations that exhibit patterns of violation is due to be finalized later this month. And a second proximity device rule, to expand the requirement to other mobile underground equipment, is to be published in draft form in July, MSHA said.
The black lung rule in particular has been basically stalled since not long after it was proposed in October 2010, in part because of opposition from industry and from Republicans in Congress.
Black lung, or coal workers' pneumoconiosis, is an irreversible and potentially deadly disease caused by exposure to coal dust.
In 1969, Congress made eliminating black lung a national goal with a law that required mine operators to take steps to limit exposure. The law greatly reduced black lung among the nation's coal miners.
Scientists have found, though, that black lung is on the rise again. Researchers have warned of a doubling of black lung rates since 1997, and of an alarming incidence of the disease among younger miners, whose entire careers took place under the 1969 law's dust limits.
In West Virginia, more than 2,000 coal miners died of black lung between 1995 and 2004, second only to Pennsylvania, with 4,234 black lung deaths during the same period, according to government data. Nationwide, black lung killed more than 10,000 miners during those years.
"We hope that they can actually get those rules in place by the timelines they have laid out," said Phil Smith, spokesman for the United Mine Workers union. "Coal miners have been waiting for these things for a long time."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.