UMWA condemns U.S. House subcommittee move to defund enforcement of new MSHA black lung silica dust rule

MORGANTOWN – In April, miners and mining labor leaders met with U.S. Department of Labor Acting Secretary Julie Su in Uniontown to celebrate DOL’s final rule to protect miners from silica dust – exposure to which can lead to black lung disease.

On Friday, the miners and mine labor leaders criticized a move by a U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee to not fund enforcement of the rule. The subcommittee advanced the bill providing funds for DOL and its Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The markup specifies, “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to administer, implement, or enforce the proposed rule entitled ‘Lowering Miners’ Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica and Improving Respiratory 18 Protection.’”

In Uniontown in April, United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts celebrated. “What does this rule do? It’s not overly complicated. More people will be alive 10 years from now than there would have been if it wasn’t for what we’ve done fighting for this rule. We were on the right side of this. We were doing the Lord’s work here.”

On Friday, Roberts said, “MSHA’s silica standard aims to reduce the amount of deadly silica dust in mine atmospheres, which is crucial for combating the worsening epidemic of black lung disease. It is difficult for me to understand how certain members of Congress could possibly be supportive of more miners dying a suffocating death as a result of being forced to breathe this dust.”

He continued, “These actions are a direct attack on the health and safety of coal miners. The epidemic of black lung disease is a critical issue that demands immediate action. I call on all members of Congress to reject this dangerous provision and stand up for the rights and health of miners.”

MSHA proposed the rule last June. Its current standard for metal/nonmetal (MNM) mines is 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air for a full-shift exposure – meaning an eight-hour time weighted average. For coal mines, there is no separate standard for silica dust.

MSHA’s new standard would match the Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard adopted in 2016: for both MNM and coal mines, 50 micrograms per cubic meter for a full-shift exposure. If a miner’s exposure exceeds the limit, the final rule requires mine operators to take immediate corrective actions to come into compliance.

The rule also establishes an action level matching OSHA’s: 25 micrograms per cubic meter across a full shift. When miners’ exposures is above the proposed action level but below the permitted exposure limit of 50 micrograms, the proposed rule would require mine operators to conduct periodic sampling until miners’ exposures are below the action level.

The proposed rule also includes medical surveillance requirements for MNM miners, modeled on existing medical surveillance requirements for coal miners, and requiring companies to establish medical surveillance programs to provide periodic health examinations at no cost to miners.

Roberts noted that subcommittee shair Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., represents a district with a significant number of coal mines and thousands of coal miners.

“This would indicate that he is prioritizing industry profits over the health and safety of the very workers he was elected to represent,” Roberts said. “The miners in his district, many of whom already suffer from black lung disease, deserve better than this. I can only conclude that Aderholt is telling his constituents that their lives and health are of no concern to him.”

The Dominion Post contacted Rep. Alex Mooney, who represents West Virginia’s 2nd District – the northern half of the state – noting that he represents coal miners, many who have black lung. His office did not respond.

At some point, in whatever its final form, the bill will cross over to the Senate, so we also contacted Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin.

Capito did not wish to comment at this time. Manchin’s office said he opposes the defunding measure.

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