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. But still, nearly 10,000 coal miners nationwide have died in the last decade from black lung.
And more recently, scientists have found that black lung is on the rise again. Researchers have warned of a doubling of black lung rates since 1997, and of alarming incidents of the disease among younger miners whose entire careers took place under the 1969 law's dust limits.
Last October, MSHA proposed to toughen limits on coal dust exposure as part of a broad plan Obama administration officials hope will eliminate black lung.
MSHA chief Joe Main also proposed to require more advanced continuous monitoring and more accurate sampling methods to better estimate exposure and protect miners from the disease.
But coal industry officials and some of their political allies have criticized the Obama proposal. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has said there's no need for the tougher rules because the industry has already done "a pretty good job" of dealing with black lung.
UMW President Cecil Roberts said Paul is wrong about the black lung rules, but that he wasn't surprised to hear his statements about the matter.
"He doesn't believe in any law or any regulation that inhibits business in any way," Roberts said Friday. "He's just wrong on that."
Richard Whiting, president of Patriot Coal, said the industry doesn't oppose MSHA's entire proposal, but wants the agency to allow coal operators to supplement improved mine ventilation and dust-suppressing water sprays with respirator helmets.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.