Recent reporting by National Public Radio and the Center for Public Integrity has revealed that after a long period of decline, the current form of the disease is affecting younger miners, is more severe and advances faster than it used to. Data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) shows cases of the worst stages of black lung have quadrupled in the past 25 years in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. PBS has done an interview on the subject with NPR reporter Howard Berkes.
Government health and safety rules aren't achieving what they were intended for in this realm. Chris Hamby reports:
The system for monitoring miners’ exposure to dust is riddled with loopholes, and regulators have sometimes failed to enforce even these rules. Mining companies have taken advantage of a self-policing system to manipulate dust sampling results for decades.The need to do something about this spurred the Mining Safety and Health Administration to propose a new rule in 2010 that would close some of the loopholes. Too much would still depend on voluntary, unmonitored actions by the mining companies, but the proposed rule is a step in the right direction.
Republicans don't think so. Last year, as part of the budget, they blocked further rule-making until publication of a Government Accountability Office report confirms the NIOSH study. But with that GAO study slated for arrival next month, Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee have inserted language in the fiscal 2013 budget bill that bars all efforts to "promulgate, administer, enforce, or otherwise implement the Lowering Miners' Exposure to Coal Mine Dust."
Committee Democrats opposed the move, which has strong support from the National Mining Association that represents large mining corporations nationwide.
Both Denny Rehberg, the Montana Republican who wrote the bill, and Hal Rogers, chairman of the appropriations committee, are up for re-election this year, and both count the coal mining industry among their top donors. Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, has long been a champion of the industry, and mining companies have donated more to his campaigns over the years—about $378,000—than any other industry.Rep. George Miller of California, one of the strongest labor Democrats in Congress, was furious over the Republican action. In a statement issued on his website, he 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. The recent investigative report by several news organizations on the devastating impact of black lung and the lengths that some mine operations go to circumvent their responsibility to protect miners should have been a wakeup call. It’s clear that voices wealthier than coal miner families drowned out that message. [...]This one touches home. My grandfather, an underground miner for 12 years and then a union organizer in several states, died of black lung just 15 months after gaining compensation more than a decade after being diagnosed. But the overall fight to get a federal black-lung compensation and prevention program into place lasted a lot longer than 10 years. Republicans obviously have not surrendered yet.
Blocking efforts by the Mine Safety and Health Administration to modernize miner protections will only cost lives, careers, and family income for those who go underground every day.”