WASHINGTON, D.C. — The head of the United Mine Workers says a plan by House Republicans to strip funding from the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s plans to tighten regulations on coal dust will result in thousands of deaths.
MSHA has been in the process of implementing new rules which would ultimately cut in half the allowable level of coal dust in mines. The proposal, published in October but not yet in effect, would be rendered toothless after Republicans inserted language into the Department of Labor’s budget, prohibiting MSHA using federal funds “to continue the development of or to promulgate, administer, enforce, or otherwise implement” the rule.
UMWA President Cecil Roberts said the ban, which arose during the House Appropriations Committee’s consideration of the Labor budget, will place more miners at risk for contracting black lung.
“The language proposed by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives that will eliminate funding for future efforts to reduce miners’ exposure to coal dust, including the development of critical new technology that will provide real-time monitoring of dust exposure, amounts to nothing more than a potential death sentence for thousands of American miners,” Roberts said.
Pointing at recent reports that black lung is on the rise, striking younger workers with more severe cases, Roberts said the decision to cut funding from regulatory efforts is puzzling.
“It’s difficult to understand the motivation behind this effort,” Roberts said. “Recent studies by the federal government under Democratic and Republican administrations have clearly demonstrated that black lung is on the rise, which can only happen when there is too much respirable coal dust in mine atmospheres. We know that the only way to end this disease is to reduce miners’ exposure to that dust.”
Beyond being a health issue, Roberts said coal dust is also a safety issue.
“I would also point out that respirable coal dust is also highly explosive,” Roberts said. “Indeed, allowing this dust to build up is exactly one of the causes of the massive explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine.”
But Rep. Hal Rogers, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, told the media this week that Republicans are trying to remove obstacles that have crippled the coal industry.
“This legislation reflects our strong commitment to reduce over-regulation and unnecessary, ineffective spending that feeds the nation’s deficits and hampers economic growth,” Rogers said. “A careful look was given to all programs and agencies in the bill, with the budget knife aimed at excess spending and underperforming programs, but also with the goal of making wise investments in programs that help the American people the most.”