Rockefeller noted that a December 2011 Republican budget rider delayed the MSHA rule until a U.S. Government Accountability Office report on the issue was completed in August 2012.
"It has been nearly a year since the GAO issued their report, in which it confirmed MSHA used key scientific findings to develop the aforementioned rule," Rockefeller wrote. "Despite this affirmation by the GAO, the rule has not yet moved forward."
Black lung, or coal workers' pneumoconiosis, is an irreversible and potentially deadly disease caused by exposure to coal dust.
One goal of the 1969 federal coal-mine safety law was to eliminate black lung. Deaths declined for years, but experts have been warning since the 1990s that the dust limits need to be tightened. More recently, since 2003, researchers have been documenting an alarming increased incidence of the disease in younger miners, whose entire careers took place under the 1969 law's dust limits.
Last year, a joint investigation by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity, with additional reporting by The Charleston Gazette, documented widespread industry cheating on coal-dust controls and repeated inaction by regulators to try to end the disease.
Between 1996 and 2005, nearly 10,000 coal miners nationwide died of black lung, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. West Virginia recorded the second-highest black lung deaths of any state, with more than 1,800 during that period, according to NIOSH.
"No miner should have to face the destructive effects of black lung," Rockefeller said in his letter. "We must act now before we lose more West Virginia coal miners to this disease."
The two other MSHA initiatives mentioned by Rockefeller focused on proposals to require mine operators to install proximity detection devices that shut off underground equipment when miners get too close to the equipment.
One rule would cover adding such devices to continuous mining machines. Between 1984 and 2010, 30 miners died and 220 were injured nationwide when they became crushed, pinned or struck by these machines.
MSHA proposed that rule in August 2011 and the public comment period closed in late November 2011. MSHA has yet to send a final draft of the rule to OMB for White House approval.
The other rule would require proximity detectors on other types of mobile underground equipment. MSHA sent a draft of that rule to OMB in September 2011, but the White House has yet to approve it being proposed for public comment.Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.