In October 2010, MSHA proposed new rules as part of what the agency touted as an aggressive plan to end the disease. Among other steps, the MSHA proposal would reduce the legal limit for dust in underground mines from 2 milligrams of dust per cubic meter of air to 1 milligram of dust per cubic meter of air. A Labor Department advisory commission recommended the change in 1996, and NIOSH has been urging since 1995 that the limit be tightened. Industry officials argue that recent increases in black lung rates are a regional problem and don't require a new nationwide rule.
In August 2012, the federal Government Accountability Office issued a major report that supported MSHA'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 the issuance of the final MSHA rule.
Since the GAO report, though, MSHA has reported no significant actions on its proposed rule. A final version has not been recorded as being filed with the White House Office of Management and Budget -- where a review could take months -- and MSHA officials refuse to say much about the topic.
The latest MSHA regulatory agenda also indicates that the agency is delaying a final rule to require underground mine operators to equip continuous-mining machines with devices meant to protect miners from being run over or crushed by those machines.
That rule was to be finalized by May but has been delayed until August, the regulatory agenda says.
A separate proposed rule to require these "proximity detection" devices on other underground equipment was delayed from July to November.
The new MSHA regulatory agenda also says the agency plans a new initiative to seek comments on issues related to the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County.
"The request for information will request data, comments, and information on issues related to rock dusting, ventilation, mine examinations, certified persons and MSHA-approved instructors," the regulatory agenda said.
MSHA doesn't plan to publish the request for comments until October.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or at 304-348-1702.