CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller is pressing the Obama administration to stop repeated delays of new regulations aimed at ending black lung and to move forward with other key coal-mine safety initiatives.
In a letter to President Obama, the West Virginia Democrat said he is "extremely disappointed" that "rules designed to protect the health and safety of our nation's coal miners appear to again be delayed."
Rockefeller's letter, dated today, focuses on the long-delayed proposal by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration to toughen the legal limits for exposure to coal dust that causes black lung. The letter notes that two other MSHA initiatives -- both designed to prevent miners from being crushed by underground equipment -- have also been pending since 2010.
"I urge you in the strongest possible terms to direct your administration to move forward as expeditiously as possible on all of these issues, and to reaffirm your administration's commitment to protect the health and safety of our nation's coal miners," Rockefeller said in the letter.
The letter noted National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that warned of a resurgence of black lung, and autopsies that found miners who died in the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster also suffered from the disease.
"This disease is back and will not go away unless we make it a priority and act," Rockefeller wrote.
In recent weeks, West Virginia political leaders have resumed their harsh criticism of the Obama administration's policies related to coal's impact on the environment. Publicly, few of those state political leaders ever mention the repeated delay by MSHA of several key mine safety and health rules that are generally opposed by the coal industry.
Rockefeller's letter was directed to the president, with a copy sent to Joe Main, who is assistant labor secretary in charge of MSHA.
Also copied on the letter was West Virginia native Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who in April was confirmed as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget and must sign off on any new government regulations. At least one of the rules Rockefeller mentioned in his letter, a proposal for "proximity detection" systems on mobile underground mining equipment, has been pending at OMB for nearly two years.
Rockefeller's letter to Obama comes less than a week after the senator introduced new legislation that would, among other things, force MSHA to within six months finalize its tougher limits on coal-dust exposure.
MSHA proposed those limits in October 2010, but has yet to finalize the rule.
Last month, MSHA pushed back its timeline for the final rule from a missed target date of June 2013 to September 2013. However, MSHA has yet to forward its final draft to OMB, where economic reviews of such matters can take many more months.