Black Lung, the horrible, debilitating disease that plagued the mining community for generations is on the rise again, according to a joint report from National Public Radio (NPR) and the Center for Public Integrity (CPI). The disease, once thought to be headed towards extinction following tough regulations enacted in the late 1960’s, has seen a resurgence in the last 30 years, with cases of the worst stages of the disease tripling since the 1980’s. The NPR/CPI report attributes this increase to more efficient mining equipment that has lead to greater output, but also produces more of the toxic mining dust to which miners are exposed during an average work week that has increased almost 11 hours since the 1980’s. This combination of longer exposure to more toxins is proving to be very deadly.
Then why are House Republicans attempting to block funding that would go towards increasing miner safety and decreasing the impact of this epidemic? In addition to holding multiple “symbolic” votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Republicans in the House of Representatives have attached a rider to the FY 2013 appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services that specifically blocks any funding for a program that would limit miners’ exposure to toxic mining dust. Section 118 of the bill reads as follows:
None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to continue the development of or to promulgate, administer, enforce, or otherwise implement the Lowering Miners’ Exposure to Coal Mine Dust, Including 20 Continuous Personal Dust Monitors regulation (Regulatory Identification Number 1219-AB64) being developed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration of the Department of Labor.
It could be assumed that, by denying the funding for a regulatory program, Republicans are simply sticking to their meme of smaller government, less intervention, and self-regulation for business in the interest of economic growth. However, the National Mining Association (NMA), a group that lobbies Washington on behalf of the industry, believes that the program for which Republicans wish to deny funding does not go far enough. The NMA is calling for more regulation and more government intervention on behalf of the industry. According to NPR, the NMA has called for the following actions in addition to the current program:
· Encourage the use of proven technology — (supplied air helmets,) used in occupations other than mining — to provide miners with a stream of fresh air across their breathing zone;
· Allow work practices that permit miners to be rotated across alternate work locations to minimize exposure during the shift;
· Require that all miners participate in an x-ray surveillance program so that intervention measures can be taken promptly should a miner develop respiratory impairment during his career;
· Recognize that longer working periods impact exposure by adopting a weekly, cumulative dose exposure limit rather than the current shift-by-shift approach;
· Revise the rule to address the localized nature of the problem (as identified by NIOSH x-ray surveillance data) and the specific conditions it represents rather than impose a general requirement across the entire industry.
· Complete the additional research and development needed to ensure integrity of personal dust monitors.
It is obvious that industry representatives want this program and that the afflicted miners need this program. But for a political class that, in a time of real economic hardship, is content to hold symbolic votes, real action appears to be an unattainable (or unwanted?) ideal.