Senator Jay Rockefeller today issued the following statement after a new report was released highlighting the need for a rule that would better protect miners from contracting black lung disease.
"No miner should have to face the destructive effects of black lung. This heart-wrenching disease has hurt too many miners, their families, and communities," said Rockefeller. "As black lung rates are rising severely among a new generation of miners, this report confirms how critical MSHA's new rules will be to protecting miners' health. Despite mounting evidence of the dangers of black lung disease, Republicans in the House continue to try to block these safety improvements. That is why my mine safety bill requires MSHA to quickly implement these protections and update them if we don't see progress in reducing incidents of black lung. We must act now before we lose more West Virginia coal miners to this disease."
The non-partisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) today released a report on the proposed rule that the Mine Safety Health Administration (MSHA) is working on that would limit miners' exposure to the types of dust that cause black lung disease. Click here to view the report. On July 18, the House Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittee approved language in its FY 2013 bill prohibiting MSHA from implementing these rules.
Rockefeller has long fought to reduce the incidents of black lung among coal miners, including by:
Working to limit miners' exposure to black lung disease. Just last month, Rockefeller reintroduced his landmark mine safety bill with new provisions aimed at fixing more of the glaring safety issues revealed in the wake of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. Autopsies revealed that 71 percent of the victims of the Upper Big Branch disaster had black lung disease, including a 25 year old miner. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has also found that the prevalence of black lung disease has increased since 2000, following a steady decline over the previous 30 years. NIOSH also identified severe cases of the disease in miners at younger ages.
A new provision in Rockefeller's bill would require that MSHA issue a rule within six months -- a rule that is long overdue -- to reduce miners' exposure to respirable dust that causes black lung disease and require MSHA to update those regulations every five years if instances of black lung disease do not decrease.
Fighting back against those opposed to reducing cases of black lung disease. In July, Rockefeller criticized Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee for inserting language into an appropriations bill that would prohibit MSHA from implementing new rules to reduce the rate of black lung disease.
Continuing to protect benefits for miners who have contracted black lung. In May, after learning that some people were not receiving their black lung benefits on time, Rockefeller reached out to the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Labor to help resolve the issue. He also supported a provision in the health care reform law that allows retired miners and their families to receive black lung benefits without re-filing claims or having to reprove their spouse died as a result of black lung disease. In an effort to speed up compensation to those affected by black lung, Rockefeller introduced a bill that would have streamlined the benefits process for miners and their families under the Black Lung Trust Fund.
Searching out new ways black lung can be addressed. In 2009, Rockefeller released a GAO report he requested regarding the persistent barriers that miners and their families face when trying to secure benefits through the federal Black Lung Benefits Program. Rockefeller called on the U.S. Department of Labor to quickly consider and act on the report.