The Republican Party has taken its anti-regulation frenzy to stunning new levels.
In a draft 2013 budget released by the House Appropriations Committee, House Republicans have added language that would prevent the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) from implementing new limits on coal dust — a pollutant contributing to a steep rise in cases of black lung among U.S. coal miners.
According to an investigation released earlier this month by National Public Radio and the Center for Public Integrity, cases of black lung have doubled in the last decade. Since 1995, more than 10,000 coal miners have died from black lung across the country, according to an analysis of government data from NPR and CPI.
The reason, say public health experts: poor coal dust regulations.
“From the patterns and from the severity, from the prevalence of the disease, this must be a situation in which the dust in many, many mines is simply not adequately controlled. There’s nothing else that could possibly cause this,” said Edward Petsonk, a pulmonologist at West Virginia University, speaking to NPR in a report on the black lung investigation.
In spite of this growing public health epidemic, House Republicans have included language in a draft budget for the Labor Department that would explicitly prevent funding for any new coal dust rules that would limit miners’ exposure:
None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to continue the development of or otherwise implement the Lowering Miners’ Exposure to Coal Mine Dust, Including 20 Continuous Personal Dust Monitors regulation being developed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration of the Department of Labor.
The coal union, the United Mine Workers of America, reacted with swift condemnation. Ken Ward, Jr. of the Charleston Gazette reported on the bill:
If approved, the language would forbid MSHA from using any funds from its budget to finalize its October 2010 proposal to tighten legal coal-dust limits and improve other protections for miners.
“House Republicans’ proposal to stop modern protections against black lung disease for our nation’s miners is outrageous and should be defeated,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and ranking minority member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts said the budget measure “amounts to nothing more than a potential death sentence for thousands of American miners.”
“Preventing black lung isn’t a matter of overregulation,” Roberts said. “It’s a matter of life and death.”
The GOP’s response? A return to their robotic anti-regulation refrain.
“It is the chairman’s position and the position of the subcommittee that that particular regulation is harmful and costly to the industry and to the economy in general,” said Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for House Appropriations Committee Republican, according to a report in The Hill.
Again, over 10,000 miners have died from black lung since 1995, in large part due to poor regulations. As those rates increase, public health officials at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are calling the problem “clearly a public health epidemic…that should not be occurring.”
And the GOP’s only response is that these life-saving rules are bad for the economy. Seriously.
Oh, and it gets worse. Some are reportedly blaming the miners. From the Charleston Gazette story:
Industry officials argue that recent increases in black lung rates are a regional problem and don’t require a new nationwide rule. Industry supporters in Congress have claimed that black lung rates have not increased and have blamed miners for not protecting themselves from excess dust.
This isn’t the first time that regulations on coal dust have been blocked. The saga over these rules has been ongoing since the early 1990’s, when House Republicans attempted to eliminate the agency that regulates mines. Ken Ward Jr. had a companion piece to the NPR/CPI investigation in the Charleston Gazette on the surge in black lung:
Over and over, that’s been the story of government efforts to improve the system intended to protect miners and end black lung. One proposal or another has died, been dropped or thrown out in court after one side or the other wasn’t satisfied with the details.
…At the same time, efforts by then-MSHA chief Davitt McAteer to focus on black lung — and many other issues — were diverted.
When Newt Gingrich and the Republicans took over the House of Representatives, among their government streamlining proposals was to eliminate MSHA [The Mine Safety and Health Administration]. Mine safety duties would be given instead to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, weakening the greater protections federal law gives to miners. McAteer and other top Labor Department officials spent years fighting the change. They eventually won, but the damage to their agenda — including black lung reforms — was significant.
“It was dramatic,” McAteer recalled. “You spent your time not at the task of improving mine safety and health, but defending yourself against what they were trying to do.”
Meanwhile, more than 10,000 American miners have died from black lung since then.