A chilling article in today's Pittsburgh Post Gazette drives another spike into coal industry attempts to portray their product as a source of "clean energy."
Headlined New Rules Aim to Curb Black Lung, But at What Cost the story reports on one of three recent meetings between coal mine operators and Joseph Main, U.S. assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. Main was holding the meetings in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia, to explain a new, and controversial (at least to the industry) federal mining rule aimed at reducing coal dust in the mines and with it - black lung - a crippling and often fatal disease caused by repeated inhalation of fine particles of dust and rock generated in the mining process.
More below the orange squiggle....
The new rules for improved dust suppression are due to be phased in over two years. Main noted that
...black lung disease rates for miners have doubled since 1997, and many of those affected are younger miners in Pennsylvania and other Appalachian coalfield states.The new rules, designed to replace existing standards that date back four decades, require more full-shift monitoring of dust levels, require miners to wear personal dust monitors starting in 2016, and lowers the allowable levels of dust from 2.0 to 1.5 milligrams of dust per cubic meter of air.
Since 1968, more than 76,000 miners have died from black lung disease, also known as coal miner's pneumoconiosis, with about 1,500 miners continuing to die each year. The highest number of those miner deaths, 48,000, have occurred in Pennsylvania, and in the state over the past 10 years $1.2 billion has been spent on medical costs and survivor benefits, Mr. Main said.
Mine owners claim the new rules are based on shaky research and require the use of "untested technology," and assert that full enforcement could force many of them out of business.
Essentially their argument is...."Hey....if we have to make sure our workers have a safe working environment, we can't make money. We rely on their early mortality to make a profit."
It's an argument they have made for over a century and they will continue to make it to their own graves. Trouble is the industry is now in deep economic trouble simply because of "free market economics." Coal is being undercut by cheaper, cleaner and abundant natural gas, and one of the industry's biggest customers....the electric utility industry...is finally moving away from it.....not because of arguments that burning it created huge mountains of toxic coal ash, devastated the environment with mountain top removal methods, and has polluted air and water across much of the country....but because gas is cheaper and presents fewer political headaches.
Coal country badly needs enlightened leadership to help educate those who have relied so heavily on the industry for so long as the primary source of employment to start the painful but inevitable process of training workers for new jobs in new sectors...especially clean energy and energy distribution systems. Until it does, miners will continue to die so operators can remain profitable.