Coal Tattoo

There’s obviously been a lot of talk during the campaign to fill Robert C. Byrd’s U.S. Senate seat about the Obama administration’s alleged “war on coal,” with Democrat and Gov. Joe Manchin trying to fend off the rather absurd suggestion by Republican John Raese that the governor doesn’t strongly support the industry.

Except for a minor blip here and there — mostly in the form of the Manchin campaign ad criticizing Raese-owned companies’ safety records, which somebody in the Manchin camp decided should be filmed at a mine that’s under federal criminal investigation for faking safety inspections — there’s been little talk about mine safety and health.

But the general thrust from both campaigns has been that Manchin and Raese both are strong supporters of coal miners, defenders of their jobs and their “way of life” against those nasty federal regulators. Almost unbelievably, Manchin took this even farther than Raese did, not only suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for trying to protect the environment, but also trying to show voters he’s man enough to take his gun to a defenseless piece of federal legislation.

So if Gov. Manchin and Mr. Raese are such big supporters of coal miners, you would think they would be all about helping to put an end to black lung, a disease that has killed 10,000 coal miners in the last decade alone — including more than 1,800 in West Virginia.

And yes, what positions the candidates would take on an issue like this could be critically important … Republicans currently have mine safety legislation bottled up in the U.S. Senate, and MSHA’s ability to enact and enforce tougher dust limits could be hampered or enhanced by better funding and oversight, depending on who is speaking for miners from West Virginia’s other Senate seat. Don’t forget — the last time the nation had a Democratic president and a reformer (Davitt McAteer) running MSHA,  the GOP took over Congress in the midterm elections and proceeded to try to dismantle federal mine safety protections altogether.

While Gov. Manchin moved swiftly following the Sago and Aracoma deaths to enact new state mine rescue legislation for West Virginia, the administration here hasn’t followed through yet on increased coal-dust sampling or proposed any legislation at all in the wake of the Upper Big Branch Disaster.

And Mr. Raese? Well, he hasn’t really made improving mine safety a part of his campaign and it’s pretty clear the guy doesn’t care for federal regulation of such things.

But still, shouldn’t voters know whether either candidate would support or oppose MSHA’s new effort to eliminate black lung. Perhaps foolishly, I thought so … so I asked yesterday for comments from both campaigns about the MSHA plan.

First, I haven’t heard a word back from the Raese campaign, though I continue to get their regular e-mail blasts that they send our regularly to all of the media.

But folks at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee should hold off trying to make much of that, because this is the best Gov. Manchin’s campaign could do in commenting on the MSHA plan to end black lung:

It may be challenging to meet this new rule, but everyone wants safe work and health conditions, and we must seek consistent improvements in regards to enhancing our workplace safety. It is my understanding that there is a 60-day comment period and all affected parties will be able to voice their views or concerns at this time.