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Rep. George Miller (D-CA)
Rep. George Miller
Republicans appear determined to dismantle programs of the New Deal, Great Society and every other bit of progressive legislation passed in the past century or so. Failing that, they work to hamstring attempts to upgrade various programs dedicated to the well-being of Americans not born into privilege and wealth. The arguments have scarcely changed over the decades. The latest chapter in this despicable saga is the GOP's benighted effort to kill a rule dealing with a resurgence in the coal-miners' disease—black lung.

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. [...]

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.”

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.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 01:56 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I saw a tweet on this (20+ / 0-)

    and felt sick to my stomach. Yet another example of Republicans' priorities.

    Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace. - Dalai Lama

    by kimoconnor on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 02:01:46 PM PDT

  •  What is wrong with these heartless assholes?? (18+ / 0-)

    This makes me sick to my stomach.  Anything at all to protect the almighty dollar.


    Was a cold and dark December when the banks became cathedrals...

    by althea in il on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 02:24:27 PM PDT

  •  The coal industry has always lied, cheated, (14+ / 0-)

    and stolen in order to make their money--right from the very get-go, even back when they were first obtaining the mineral rights to much of the land in Appalachia. Many of the old farmers and land-owners they purchased the mineral rights from were illiterate, and had little idea that one day, the coal industry would destroy their land and impoverish their children and grandchildren. When the coal companies couldn't convince a landowner to sell, they would often just forge the documents, and file them in a different country from where the land was located. Then, when the landowner died, in many instances their heirs were none the wiser. Of course, you won't find that sort of thing in the history books--you have to look at the family histories of people from that area, and look at some of the lawsuits that have been brought by a few families as a result of the coal companies' fraudulent claim on their mineral rights.

    The coal companies have never truly been held to account for the crimes they have committed against the people of Appalachia--the stolen natural resources, the thousands who have died because of diseases such as black lung or mining accidents, the children who have been born with birth defects because of environmental pollution, the deep poverty and loss of opportunity they have perpetuated upon that region.

    All in the name of the all-mighty dollar.

    I wish, that one day, they will be made to pay for what they have done.

  •  Congress ought to live under its own (10+ / 0-)

    laws or the consequences of the ones they block.

    How 'bout if they block safety regulations, we add to the air system or water  in Congress the pollutant they think is just fine.

  •  I never know what to make of mining issues. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    third Party please, raster44, deha

    It's obvious states like KY and WV are total wingnut.

    "The disturbing footage depicts piglets being drop kicked and swung by their hind legs. Sows are seen being kicked and shoved as they resist leaving their piglets."

    by Bush Bites on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 05:39:10 PM PDT

    •  And amazingly underdeveloped... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, nellgwen, deha

      particularly for states sporting an industry considered so beneficial.
      Jess sayin'...

      •  It's endemic to states with extraction industries (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        deha, dclawyer06

        Where wealth is derived from exploiting a finite natural resource, the mind set is to spend as little money as possible on anything that isn't related to extracting that resource. Because the people extracting it know it - and they - will be gone one day, and they have no intention of leaving the least bit of wealth behind for anyone. Just the mess. Which is conservative governance in a nutshell, I guess.

        The pattern holds over and over - that's why they regard sustainable development as anathema to their goals.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 06:16:43 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Isn't Mitch McConnell from KY? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nellgwen, Lorinda Pike

      Doesn't he care enough about the miners in his state to walk across the capitol and speak to some House members?  Or is he afraid of them too?

      "In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican." - H. L. Mencken

      by SueDe on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 06:13:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The GOP in Congress could hardly do (8+ / 0-)

    a better job of demonstrating to voters why they must be replaced.

    GOP - The Party of Iago

    by psnyder on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 05:40:06 PM PDT

  •  More of the same... (13+ / 0-)

    I wish every person on the left would carefully read the history of labor and coal in West Virginia and other Appalachian states. The people they've killed, some in mine disasters because they didn't follow the law and in many cases willfully and deliberately ignored federal safety requirements, and others slowly through exposure to cancer causing agents, just floors me. If ever there was a need for a truth commission in the US, that's one.

  •  What I picked up from the NPR story... (11+ / 0-)

    Is that miners are getting higher exposure to black lung risk factors because modern machinery is larger and lets them go after coal seams that would have been ignored previously because they included too much rock. This throws up A) more dust and B) more dust containing silicates.

    What this says to me is that the industry is pushing its margins even harder if it can afford to go after marginal coal like this and still make a profit.

    And/Or that they're making up the difference by trading their workers' lungs for coal even more than they used to.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 05:43:22 PM PDT

  •  It helps if people understand WHY (15+ / 0-)

    these new regulations are necessary.

    New technology and more intense mining mean that silica dust is being inhaled where before it was mostly coal dust. And more of it is being inhaled.

    This isn't coal miners asking for tighter protections.

    This is coal miners asking for protections to be somehow comparable to the 1960's when they were first introduced.

    Coal miners today are SICKER than they were back then.

    Companies can't invent new ways to make workers sicker and then pretend that the old rules still apply or that new rules are somehow some unfair burden or addition to their responsibilities.

    THE COMPANIES decided to change their technology, and it made workers sicker.

    In a decent world, these protections would be built into the system so that when rich people develop new technology they have an obligation to ensure it doesn't make workers sicker.

    But that's not how our world works.

    Miners are simply asking Congress to keep them as healthy as Americans were in the 60's.

    That's not asking anything. That's begging for table scraps like a dog.

    And Republicans won't even give them that. It's fucking disgusting, and it alone should prevent any moral American from voting for a single solitary motherfucker with an R by their name.

  •  There has to be a lawsuit in there somewhere (8+ / 0-)

    With Mesothelomia being such a pronounced lawsuit settlement, you'd think that a high-powered lawyer or law office could come up with a Black Lung lawsuit for these miners.

    I mean, this is just WRONG !

    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."
    Where do these fuckheads get off !!!

    The truth is sometimes very inconvenient.

    by commonsensically on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 05:51:02 PM PDT

    •  The mining execs are getting (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, nellgwen, deha

      big bang for their political donations... In what universe can the politicians despicable behavior not be judged as Quid Pro Quo... they vote for their paymasters.

      Even when it means people's lives.

      I heard the NPR story and was shocked.

      I live near a colonial iron making village. Hopewell, PA

      We were there offseason but got to look around. The cabins had some extremely short beds. For those who'd contracted black lung in the firing hut. They had to sleep essentially sitting up. I guess they still do.

      Horrifying to hear of twentysomthings who never smoked who're already suffering symptoms.

      Sickening that these pols profit by passing laws that hurt the people who elected them.

      "The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion." ~ Thomas Paine

      by third Party please on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 06:10:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I sure hope so there will be lawsuits ... (0+ / 0-)

      The rate of black lung disease increased in the last ten years. Look how the regulations for coal dust testing were skewed, circumvented and actually willfully manipulated so that the results stay "within the law".
      From the NPR series:

      Loopholes Keep Mine Companies Within The Law

      History also shows that mining companies don't need to break the law to keep dust measurements artificially low. There are loopholes:

      * The law permits sampling at only 50 percent of average production, when miners have as little as half the exposure.

      * Sampling is required only eight hours a day even though miners work at least 10 hours a day on average. That amounts to about 600 hours of exposure a year that is not measured in the sampling.

      * If federal mine inspectors' findings show too much coal dust, mining companies get a do-over. They take five of their own samples and average them. The sample with the greatest exposure is often discounted. If the average then meets the exposure standard, the violation disappears.

      The do-overs may also explain something else CPI and NPR found in federal mine safety records. Between 2000 and 2011, MSHA issued a relatively small number of coal mine dust violations despite thousands of samples with excessive dust. MSHA data show that 53,000 valid samples contained more dust than standards permit but the agency issued less than 2,400 violations.

      "The current rules have been in effect for decades, do not adequately protect miners from disease and are in need of reform," says mine safety chief Joe Main. "That is why MSHA has proposed several changes to overhaul the current standards and reduce miners' exposure to unhealthy dust."

      That's fraud imo. Because it is causing an increase in the disease and leads to death I can't believe there is no lawsuit in there.

      From As Mine Protections Fail, Black Lung Cases Surge:

      At the Upper Kanawha clinic in Cedar Grove, W.Va., the black lung caseload doubled in the last 10 years, according to program coordinator Debbie Wills, and began to include younger miners in their 40s and more serious disease.

      Patty and Gary Quarles lost their son, Gary Wayne Quarles, in the explosion at Upper Big Branch mine. Their son's post-mortem diagnosis indicated he had black lung, a puzzling finding since he was only 33.

      "The first 10 years or so that I worked here I had four patients with complicated black lung," says Wills, who has worked at the clinic since 1989. "We knew them all intimately because there were so few of them. Now we have at least 50 diagnosed with complicated black lung."

      The autopsies of the 29 victims of the 2010 explosion at what was then Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine also show an escalation of cases. Twenty-four of the victims had sufficient lung tissue for testing, and of those, 71 percent had the nodules and lesions on their lungs that signify the disease.

      That's a rate 10 times the average for southern West Virginia, says Davitt McAteer, a former federal mine safety chief who led an independent investigation of the explosion, in Raleigh County, W. Va., and reviewed the autopsies.

      How can there NOT be a lawsuit in it?
  •  People will die (11+ / 0-)

    Let's stop pussyfooting around here.  People will most certainly die as a result of Republican policy just the same as if Republican lawmakers shot them dead with a gun.  

    Call this one what it is.  Preventable pulmonary lung disease (black lung, asbestosis, silicosis) are progressive, painful, and often fatal.  What's more is that they're entirely preventable.  The entire world has known of the hazards of coal dust for about the last 120 years.  The idea that there is a lawmaking body fighting for looser regulation on this issue is straight out of some Goldwater wet dream.  

    This goes a lot farther than us complaining about what makes for good tax policy, or what the proper role of government is.  GOP lawmakers will cause people to die a painful preventable death simply to even some imaginary political score.  

    Every Republican-voting coal miner, son of a coal miner, wife of a coal miner and parent of a coal miner in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia needs to know this.  

    Your dogma ran over my karma

    by Whiskey Sam on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 05:51:18 PM PDT

  •  "if those coal miners had any sense of (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mapamp, raster44, nellgwen, Meteor Blades

    honor and decency, they'd just die, and save the rest of us all the trouble."

    "oh, what, the mic is still on?"

    "let me clarify that......................................"

  •  And then you have CNN reporting this . . . (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bush Bites, raster44, xaxnar, deha
    •  Pretty much what I figured. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, deha, Lorinda Pike
      (CNN) -- Amanda Sedgmer, mother of five and daughter of coal country, believes that in this presidential election, her way of life is at stake.

      "If you ask anybody in the coal industry what would happen if Obama is re-elected, they'd say the coal industry is done," said Sedgmer, whose husband, Ryan, is a coal miner and whose family has depended on the industry for at least four generations.

      "The disturbing footage depicts piglets being drop kicked and swung by their hind legs. Sows are seen being kicked and shoved as they resist leaving their piglets."

      by Bush Bites on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 05:59:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Republicans are just evil. (7+ / 0-)

    How could one of the major political parties in the United States be taken over by mean people who elect evil people?  Rich or poor, the voters who continue to elect these people are not members in good standing of the human race.

    "In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican." - H. L. Mencken

    by SueDe on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 05:55:15 PM PDT

  •  This is a great example of the conservative (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rbird, raster44, nellgwen

    ideology that progressives were trying to describe/explain when Obama (and his core supporters) were on that pragmatic ’consensus-building' with republicans kick (by which numerous pre-concessions were made to republicans not to even get a single vote) How much more of this kind of shit (i.e. examples of the fundamental republican philosophy) is it going to take before Obama (and his core supporters) admit that they were wrong on their "consensus-building" with republicans shtick.
    I know it won’t happen, but it would provide some hope if it did.

  •  My Pappy was a miner in (7+ / 0-)

    West Virginia. He started work in those mines when they were barely crawl spaces and worked his butt off to bring unions to the mines and fair wages.

    He had black lung--the Alzheimer's killed him before the black lung.

    There are miners screaming from their graves at the injustice of all of this.

    Peace, Hope, Faith, Love

    by mapamp on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 05:59:03 PM PDT

  •  Every day, it's another Republican outrage (4+ / 0-)

    (or two or ten) against We the People. This one made me literally sick to my stomach.

    Made me think about a segment I heard on NPR a week or two ago, where some West Virginia residents being interviewed were saying they wouldn't vote for Obama because "he's against coal." Never mind that Republicans are clearly against miners.

    Talk about voting against one's own interests. The mind boggles...

    A little blue dot in a vast sea of red.

    by deha on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 06:05:34 PM PDT

  •  Let's guess what the W. Va. coal miner vote ... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    deha, xaxnar, nellgwen, Lorinda Pike

    ... will be.  Anyone? 70-30 Romney?

    It's just goddamned tragic on so many levels.  How do you fight it?  

    •  I don't know that you can (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lorinda Pike

      Big Coal has these scared and ill-informed people in a literal death grip. Even the knowledge that Republicans are actively taking steps to insure that mine owners can endanger their workers' health with impunity might not be enough to persuade mining state voters to abandon the GOP.

      A little blue dot in a vast sea of red.

      by deha on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 06:19:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Just a few days ago in another diary on another (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jan4insight, xaxnar, nellgwen, deha, 417els

    topic completely, I mused about getting in trouble with my parents while visiting my grandparents and playing in the coal bin in their basement, something I'd never seen before. I remember being covered in black dust and the scrubbing I got to wash it away. I can't imagine what it would be like to inhale coal dust 40 hours a week for years.

    $378,000 seems like an incredibly small bribe to get a legislator to sign the death warrants for so many innocent people.

    [Hal] 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.

    Eliminate tax breaks that stimulate the offshoring of jobs.

    by RJDixon74135 on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 06:14:38 PM PDT

  •  Coal dust also causes explosions (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    417els, jan4insight

    Like Upper Big Branch. Failure to control coal dust can kill miners in more than one way.  Loopholes in monitoring it are inexcusable.

    I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.

    by Futuristic Dreamer on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 06:27:29 PM PDT

  •  Not surprising from these butt wipes... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Especially in Kentucky. I can't understand why people in Kentucky continue to vote these people in to office, who have absolutely no regards for their lives. My grandfather and father both worked in the mines for more than 40 and 35 years, respectively. Miners trying to collect Black Lung benefits is like going to war with the bureaucracy. When my Dad passed for years ago from respiratory problems, he had never seen a dime from the industry. There isn't anything blue about Big Blue Nation. Its as red as any state in the South.  

  •  Reading this Black Lung diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Meteor Blades, tonyahky

    and the coal industry brings back a memory when my Dad wanted to show me the town where he was born. Elenora Shaft. A town that grew up around a mine shaft. We drove along a path filled with weeds and small trees for miles it seemed till we reached a site that was pocked with sink holes where the area had sunk due to the collapse of the underground mine shafts. We got out of there fast as it seemed that no one lived there and you never know if or when the ground would give way. Back to the highway and off to Kramer, the next stop. This town had a few people but many areas were blocked off by rock mounds and Do Not Trespass signs. We talked to an old geezer who still lived there and he told us that only 4 houses were lived in. This is where my Dad had actually been a coal miner for 10 years (age 12 to 22). My Dad and my Mother's two Sister's husbands (coal miners) died with heart attacks within two months in 1964. Both my Aunts got widows Black Lung benefits for their husbands had x-rays for lung problems shortly before their deaths, Mom nothing. They were all barely 50. Irony in that my Mother's Father was a mine owner in the 20's before he lost everything in the crash and they ended up living in a company house before marrying their husbands. Mom always said that being poor was better than being rich because you could depend on the poor to stick together and share but the rich only thought of themselves. Mom had a few pictures from when she was young and you could see their families wealth but she never dwelt in the past.

    ObamaCares RomneyScares Mitt Rmoney Has A Koch Problem!

    by raster44 on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 06:53:14 PM PDT

  •  Which side are you on? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I suspect that the resurgence in black lung is also related to the decline in the mining unions.

    Union miners won't tolerate an unsafe/unhealthy situation. If the problem isn't fixed, there will be a walk out.

    If non-union miners complain about the same situation, they are out of a job.

    Movie suggestion: Harlan County, USA.

    TV suggestion: Leverage, Season 3, Episode 10 "The Underground Job"

    Counting stars by candlelight...

    by frasca on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 07:37:27 PM PDT

  •  Sanctity of the Golden Calf. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "The Sanctity of Life" ? Hollow words, mindlessly parroted by the GOP who are turning their backs on Black Lung.  

    Metastatic greed and selfishness, so glaringly on display, is physically nauseating.  Preventable Black Lung disease being acceptable in order to increase profits for an already wealthy industry is pure wickedness.

    Sanctity of the Golden Calf.

    "Evil is a lack of empathy, a total incapacity to feel with their fellow man." - Capt. Gilbert,Psychiatrist, at the end of Nuremberg trials.

    by 417els on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 10:15:02 PM PDT

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