Late last year, Republican House members -- including Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., and subcommittee Chairman Denny Rehberg, R-Mont. -- slipped into MSHA's budget a provision blocking the new black lung rules until the U.S. Government Accountability Office completed an analysis of the MSHA plan. That report is due out by mid-August, but the new budget language would block MSHA from acting through at least September 2013.
Black lung, or coal workers' pneumoconiosis, is an irreversible and potentially debilitating 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.
Now, scientists have found that the incidence of black lung is increasing again. Researchers have warned of a doubling of black lung rates since 1997, and of 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, more than 10,000 miners died from black lung during those years.
A joint investigation by National Public Radio and The Center for Public Integrity reported in detail earlier this week on the resurgence of black lung and, with additional reporting by the Gazette, documented widespread cheating by mining companies on dust samples and inaction by federal regulators to address the problem.
"The recent investigative report by several news organizations on the devastating impact of black lung and the lengths that some mine operations go to circumvent their responsibility to protect miners should have been a wakeup call," Miller said. "It's clear that voices wealthier than coal miner families drowned out that message."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.