Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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May 4, 2014

Coal dust exposure: New black lung rules overdue

— — For the first time in more than 40 years, new federal regulations have been set to limit coal dust exposure and improve enforcement against operators with unsafe coal dust levels in their mines.

The new rules announced last week by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., are designed to protect Mountain State coal miners from black lung disease. The last time federal limits on coal dust exposure were set was way back in 1973. So the new rules are clearly long overdue.

With rates of black lung climbing in recent years, Rockefeller correctly argues the importance in both preventing the disease and providing support to miners who are already suffering as well as those future generations of miners who could be impacted by black lung disease.

“It has been my mission for nearly 50 years to keep our miners and their families safe and secure,” Rockefeller said last week. “Making sure no miner has to suffer from black lung — and to tirelessly support those who’ve already come down with this debilitating and deadly diseases — is at the very heart of my life’s work.”

Rockefeller urged President Barack Obama last August to act on long-delayed respirable dust standards being considered at the time by the Department of Labor. Rockefeller also met last September with a broad coalition of stakeholders, experts, advocates, miners and their families in the Bluefield area in an effort o gain their input on ending black lung disease.

“I have always said that when it comes to the coal industry, the health and safety of our miners must be our top priority,” Manchin added. “Our coal miners have mined the coal that keeps our lights on, heats our homes and powers our businesses and it is unacceptable that they still face the threat of black lung disease. With cases of this debilitating disease again on the rise, I applaud the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s efforts and look forward to working with them to find the most effective way to protect miners.”

The new federal rules are welcomed and certainly long overdue.

 Coal miners who have labored for years deep underground in the mountains of southern West Virginia and neighboring Southwest Virginia deserve all of the help they can get from Washington. These are the same unsung heroes who have helped to keep the lights on in America for decades by mining coal. Their health and safety should be a top priority of lawmakers in Washington.

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