It is with great pleasure that, after years of effort and decades of suffering for many coal miners, we saw that new rules tightening acceptable levels of coal dust in mines and better monitoring of those levels went into effect.
Those new rules — the first on improving air quality in mines in 40 years — will lower the legal limit on coal dust in mines per mine worker shift to 1.5 milligrams per cubic meter, down from 2.
Also, all miners will be equipped with continuous personal dust monitors that will allow miners and coal operators to see in real-time how much dust exposure they are receiving.
The United Mine Workers of America called the new regulations “a good rule.”
“While there will still be much more to do in order to get this rule fully implemented, I believe that we will see improvement in mine atmospheres soon, which will be to the miners’ benefit,” said UMWA President Cecil E. Roberts.
“There will come a time when we will look back to this day as the point where we began to finally wipe out the deadly scourge of coal worker’s pneumoconiosis,” Roberts added.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller was a leader in pushing these new regulations, and even he understands this is a won battle and not a won war.
“We dare not claim victory — yet,” Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said. “Limiting dust exposure is just one part of this fight. Just as important is providing health care and financial support for those who are already afflicted with black lung.”
And that is where the next battle must be fought — improving health care and funding for miners who have black lung already.
Recently a report by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette found that the backlog of miners filing for black lung benefits is now an average of 429 days, due to federal bureaucracy and the shortage of administrative law judges to hear these cases.
Deputy Labor Secretary Chris Lu is seeking the largest funding increase to add new judges in a decade — 11.5 percent, or $2.72 million.
The ability to add more judges, Lu says, will allow the system to process black lung cases more quickly. Time, as we know when it comes to black lung, is critical for the miners who are suffering.
The Obama administration has requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding from Congress to address the crisis of foreign immigrants on our southern border. Already, the Los Angeles Times reports, $44 million has been expended on the border crisis from other federal agencies and another $94 million is expected to be reallocated as well.
The House passed a measure granting $659 million to the border crisis, but that bill is unlikely to be reconciled with a Senate measure that allocated $2.7 billion. Both houses of Congress have left Washington with the measure still pending.
We will refrain from making judgments on the border crisis or how the federal government is handling it until the issue becomes clearer.
What we will pass judgment on is the willingness of the administration and the Congress to lavish astronomical sums on nonresidents of the United States.
Shouldn’t our priority be addressing long-term problems of Americans like our coal miners with black lung instead?
We think so. And our coal miners will agree.