Black lung advocates meet with lawmakers

Advocates for coal miners affected by black lung disease met with lawmakers on December 13, asking them to pass laws to help coal miners.

A big complaint advocates have is an amendment to legislation currently in the House of Representatives that will strip funding from a proposed rule that limits coal miners’ exposure to silica dust, a major hazard in coal mines.

That amendment is authored by Representative Scott Perry from Pennsylvania, and it would force the Department of Labor not to spend federal dollars enforcing new silica standards in mines.

“The amendment is extremely disappointing,” Quenton King, a federal legislative specialist at Appalachian Voices, said. “Thousands of coal miners, and other miners, will be subject to continued risk of black lung disease if this rule can’t be enforced. Even a one year delay is too long to wait, after how long miners and their families have needed such a rule to protect them from deadly silica dust. MSHA hasn’t even finished reviewing comments before Rep. Perry’s attempt to block the rule.”

At the same time, the meeting was not all doom and gloom.

Senator Bob Casey from Pennsylvania and Representative Morgan McGarvey from Kentucky spoke to those who gathered virtually- two congressional leaders who have authored bills supporting miners with black lung.

Just yesterday, Representative McGarvey introduced a new bill that targets the problems that the families of coal miners face.

It makes sure that the family members of coal miners who pass away get their monthly compensation.

It also improves access to legal aid for those families.

“This is a moral imperative. And for the people that say they support our coal miners: they need to get on board with these efforts to truly give the survivors of these coal miners the benefits that were earned,” McGarvey said. “The premise of this bill is simple: we’ve got to keep our promise. We’ve got to make it easier, not harder, for these families to get the benefits that they deserve.” 

Senator Casey is the lead sponsor of the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act, a bill that helps miners access benefits to fight black lung.

It makes sure that miners are represented during the claims process, ensures that benefits are based on the cost of living and inflation, and forces coal company CEOs to pay what they owe.

“We have a lot more work to do when it comes to black lung. Just because there’s been a black lung program for many years, for decades now, doesn’t mean it’s working.” Casey said. “If you go out and do your job every day to power the nation and give us a standard of living that is going to be the envy of the world, then we’re going to help you.”

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