Coal Tattoo

andybarrIt was a potentially huge week for the many folks who have fought for years to try to end the deadly disease known as black lung, with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration moving forward with its new rules by sending them over for White House approval.

So it’s too bad it had to end with some pretty silly remarks from one of Kentucky’s congressmen. Here’s what the Lexington paper reported today:

Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr of Lexington said many members of Congress have questions about the rules, including whether they would add burden and cost on coal companies that would far outweigh any benefit to miners. If companies cut employment because of regulatory costs, it does nothing to advance the cause of workers’ health, Barr said.

“Worker safety is a top priority, but not at the cost of putting that family in a very precarious financial situation,” Barr said.

What? Worker safety is a top priority unless protecting miners from dying a terrible death from black lung costs too much? In his defense, the story went on to say:

No one should get black lung, Barr said, but regulators need to strike the right balance.

“Let’s make sure we’re not so overzealous that we put these people out of work,” he said of miners.

I guess the question is … how many Kentucky coal miners should have to die from black lung? What’s an acceptable number that amounts to “balance”?

It’s always fascinating how political leaders who profess to care so much about protecting coal miner jobs seem much less interested in protecting their health and their lives.

And not for nothing, here’s what we reported at the time — way back in October 2010 — when the Obama administration first proposed this rule:

MSHA estimated that the compliance costs for industry at between $72.4 million and $93.2 million the first year and between $40 million and $44.5 million each year after that.

Agency officials put the annual benefits – from thousands of reduced illnesses and deaths – far higher: between $99 million and $197 million per year, depending on how the figure is calculated.