House GOP tries to end effort to ‘End Black Lung’

December 15, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

UPDATED: As we reported in Saturday’s Gazette-Mail, this little rider made it into the spending bill …

We’ve heard House Republicans talk quite a bit about how much they care about coal miners’ jobs … but what about those coal miners’ lives?

You have to wonder, when you see the GOP leadership sticking riders into appropriations bills like this one, described in a summary of a funding bill for the Department of Labor:

A prohibition on the implementation or enforcement of DOL’s “coal dust” rule until an independent assessment of the integrity of the data and methodology behind the rule is conducted.

That’s right, the majority party’s proposal for funding MSHA (see pages 35-36) would keep the agency from implementing the key provision of its campaign to End Black Lung, a deadly disease that claimed the lives of 10,000 coal miners in the last decade.

The GOP legislation would block MSHA from instituting a tougher coal-dust standard until the U.S. Government Accountability Office “evaluates the completeness of MSHA’s data collection and sampling, to include an analysis of whether such data supports current trends of the incidence of lung disease arising from occupational exposure to respirable coal mine dust across working underground coal miners.”

Never mind the peer-reviewed studies that show a resurgence of black lung in parts of the nation’s coalfields.  Never mind the data showing that miners working under what are currently legal levels of coal dust are developing black lung. And forget about the fact that public health and worker health experts have for years been urging MSHA to do exactly what agency chief Joe Main is trying to do — tighten the legal limit for coal dust.

I don’t know if there’s a war on coal, but you have to wonder if there’s really  a war on coal miners.

12 Responses to “House GOP tries to end effort to ‘End Black Lung’”

  1. Phil Smith says:

    Ken: You are absolutely right about the war on coal miners. This is outrageous. Why would anyone want to take steps that will insure more miners will contract black lung? To act to delay this rulemaking even before MSHA completes it is, frankly, a cowardly act that will inevitably cause more people to die horrible deaths.

    If these lawmakers who so callously took this action could experience for just five minutes what black lung sufferers experience every day of their shortened lives, we would see no more of this. But, serving different masters than the American public, they appear to have no qualms about sentencing many miners to die from a disease we know how to prevent.

  2. Kevin Pentz says:

    Ken, is there a way to find out which house member specifically introduced this rider? Would it be correct to say that Congressman Hal Rogers, from the 5th District in Kentucky, could be held largely responsible for this rider since he is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee?

  3. Matt Wasson says:

    I also would like to know who introduced the rider, but as to the culpability of Hal Rogers, there’s no question about it. As chair of the committee, he had the power to block that rider. He didn’t.

    Either he is a general in the war on miners or he played the role of Pontius Pilate. Either way, shame on Hal Rogers.

  4. Bernadette Walton says:


    They did not say they wanted to end it….they are askinng for more info. You are misleading people. And, YES….there is an attack on coal mining and it is coming from the Obama administration. You should be more responsible in your writing. Obama would close down every coal mine if he had his way!

  5. Bernadette,
    I disagree with your assertion that Ken Ward is misleading people. He reports accurately on the text of the appropriations rider. He also correctly points out that this congressional proposal will block MSHA from proceeding with much needed improvements on coal dust regulations until this GAO report is completed. The rider would give GAO 8 months (not 8 weeks, 8 MONTHS) to do their analysis and then submit their report to Congress. I will guarantee that the mining industry will then insist that MSHA place this report in the rulemaking record, open the record for further comments, and hold public hearings. A terrible 8 month interruption will turn into a 12 month or more delay. People are fooling themselves if they believe this is some well-intentioned effort to simply obtain more information.

  6. Wilfred says:

    Well now there is an idea. Complain about MSHA not protecting miners and then make it even harder to do so! That is what I call a grassroots movement! Forget about saing lives, lets save some money for the coal industry and get more coal out!

  7. Observer says:

    As I write it is about 6:30 on Friday. If this particular rider is still in the bill passed by the House this morning, there is no reason why West Virginia’s two senators — or the leadership at the behest of the White House — cannot block this when the Senate vote takes place this weekend. The House is coming back in session next week, and a temporary spending bill should give them enough time to vote again. So if such a rider goes through, while other riders are removed at White House insistence, and after Ken has flagged the problem for the public, then West Virginia’s two US Senators and the President should be held fully accountable for a horrible decision — not only on the substance, but for letting any industry bypass the regulatory process.

  8. Observer says:

    And while I’m at it, if a rider like Ken described is signed into law, both Joe Main and Cecil Roberts should resign. In Joe’s case, this has been his #1 priority for a decade, and he should not stay with no backing. In Cecil’s case, if his union can’t turn this around, what the heck is he doing as President of the UMWA? I hope this is all taken care of already, but it is important to say them to emphasize that time remains and there are no excuses on this.

  9. Observer,
    Great point. Mr. Rockefeller’s and Mr. Manchin’s staff surely read Coal Tattoo. You’ve given them the play, let’s see if they follow it. The rider is outrageous. I hope the individuals responsible for pitching it, drafting it, inserting it, and supporting it will be honest enough to reveal themselves.

  10. Mountain Codger says:

    In the recent past we have seen where data is manipulated to certain ends. It is my opinion that life style choices such as smoking of all kinds of material would lead to lung scaring. Drug testing of all miners is not required yet the use of recreational drugs is a problem in the workplace. During my review of this matter the creteria that resulted in whether someone receives benifits changed some years back, so has the political decision loosen the qualifying standards resulting in more cases, so that this is not necessarily a medical issue as much as a welfare issue or veiled vote buying scene. All of these issues would be resolved by a sound analysis of the data in the light of day. We have seen OSM try to manipulate the results of their impact on jobs and this is no different.

  11. Bo Webb says:

    I believe Phil Smith has summed this injustice up about as well as can be described. Now, I will say this. The description of the situation as written by Phil applies to the very same situation of the innocent citizens that live directly beneath mountaintop removal coal mining. The cry that there is a war on coal is a distraction from the real war that is on the people living in mtr zones. When union leaders and coal industry executives make reckless statements about “the war on coal” they delay the urgency to end mtr. They refuse to accept the growing health research relating mtr to a myriad of health issues in mtr zones.
    I mean no personal offense but, given the health data and research available, when the coal industry and its leaders, including the union, say mtr provides jobs, they purposely fail to state that their workplace has expanded into our communities. Although their workers have certain protections for their health in the workplace, people in mtr zone workplaces do not. In reality what they are saying is; we want to blow up your mountains for money, and we will give some of your people temporary jobs while we do that. We need you to understand how important it is for these workers to have these good paying jobs, so do you mind getting sick and dying so they can keep their job?

  12. Observer says:

    Following is the final language that was enacted in HR2055. Note two things. First of all, the rider does not restrict MSHA from spending funds to finish up the regulation, nor even to publish it. So the fight will be over implementation, which is likely to take place in stages anyway over a period of time. Second, it appears the restriction expires in 240 days. Also, while the Congress could try and stop the regulation by regular process, the President’s signing statement rightly notes that they don’t have “preapproval” rights under the Constitution. So at first glance, this doesn’t seem to be anything more than a political “tip of the hat” to the mining industry. Now let’s see if the Administration will let the regulation go final in 2012, and not delay it until after the election like some other matters.

    “SEC. 112. None of the funds made available by this Act may
    be used to implement or enforce the proposed rule entitled ‘‘Lowering
    Miners’ Exposure to Coal Mine Dust, Including Continuous
    Personal Dust Monitors’’ regulation published by the Mine Safety
    and Health Administration (MSHA) of the Department of Labor
    on October 19, 2010 (75 Fed. Reg. 64412, RIN 1219–AB64) until—
    (1) the Government Accountability Office—
    (A) issues, at a minimum, an interim report which—
    (i) evaluates the completeness of MSHA’s data
    collection and sampling, to include an analysis of
    whether such data supports current trends of the
    incidence of lung disease arising from occupational
    exposure to respirable coal mine dust across working
    underground coal miners; and
    (ii) assesses the sufficiency of MSHA’s analytical
    methodology; and
    (B) not later than 240 days after enactment of this
    Act, submits the report described in subparagraph (A) to
    the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives
    and the Senate; or
    (2) the deadline described in paragraph (1)(B) for submission
    of the report has passed.”

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