Many media reports, including the Courier-Journal, say a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee passed a spending bill eliminating MSHA funding for future work to reduce coal dust levels as well as miners’ exposure to it, and even the development of critical technology.
The political move comes just days after a National Public Radio/Center for Public Integrity report that bases of pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease (CWP), have doubled in 10 years and that serious cases have increased four-fold in a three-decade period.
Additionally, the report says, the number of younger miners getting the disease is rising, and the greatest prevalence of the condition is being found in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia.
NPR and CPI went as far as to say Congress was partially to blame for the issue, as it had failed to toughen coal dust standards. Lax enforcement and rule-bending by operators were also cited.
The GOP received immediate criticism from outspoken industry safety and health supporter George Miller of California.
“House Republicans’ proposal to stop modern protections against black lung disease for our nation’s miners is outrageous and should be defeated,” Miller said.
“Republicans are sending a message that profits for their wealthy campaign contributors are more important than the lungs and lives of America’s coal miners.”
Later that day, large industry union the United Mine Workers of America called the House’s move to kill the funding “nothing more than a potential death sentence” for the nation’s miners.
“It’s difficult to understand the motivation behind this effort,” president Cecil Roberts said.
“Recent studies by the federal government under Democratic and Republican administrations have clearly demonstrated that black lung is on the rise, which can only happen when there is too much respirable coal dust in mine atmospheres. We know that the only way to end this disease is to reduce miners’ exposure to that dust.”
Roberts made the point that, as respirable coal dust was explosive, its build-up could be disastrous – as seen with the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 in April 2010.
He also said a Personal Dust Monitor that MSHA, the Centers for Disease Control, the UMWA and the industry had been working on for years was in testing and close to deployment.
“But if this language is allowed to stand, we will not have the benefit of this new technology, meaning miners will continue to be at risk of this always-fatal disease,” Roberts said, adding that he “cannot fathom” the House’s reasoning behind the decision.
“Preventing black lung isn’t a matter of over-regulation. It’s a matter of life and death.
“If members of Congress aren’t standing up and protecting American working people from preventable occupational diseases that will sentence them to a gasping, choking death, then what on earth are they doing in Washington?"