No Funding for MSHA Dust Rule in Appropriations Bill

A subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the FY2013 funding bill July 18. Rep. Hal Rogers, who chairs the committee, represents the heart of Kentucky's coal region.

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee's draft FY2013 funding bill for the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services contains a prohibition of funding for MSHA to continue its rulemaking to lower miners' exposure to respirable coal dust. Though the proposed rule was published in October 2010, it has not yet been enacted, and the bill would add to the delay.

A subcommittee is scheduled to consider the bill July 18. The committee unveiled the bill July 17, saying in a news release that it would defund many programs of the Affordable Care Act and prohibit any new discretionary funding for that law.

"This legislation reflects our strong commitment to reduce over-regulation and unnecessary, ineffective spending that feeds the nation's deficits and hampers economic growth. A careful look was given to all programs and agencies in the bill, with the budget knife aimed at excess spending and underperforming programs, but also with the goal of making wise investments in programs that help the American people the most," said Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, a Republican who represents the 5th Congressional District of Kentucky, which is the heart of the state's coal-producing region.

The bill would provide $327 million in funding to the Mine Safety and Health Administration for FY2013.

U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, issued a statement castigating the Appropriations Committee's majority Republicans for the coal dust funding prohibition and citing recent NPR reports indicating black lung incidence is rising. "House Republicans' proposal to stop modern protections against black lung disease for our nation’s miners is outrageous and should be defeated," Miller said. "The facts are indisputable -– black lung is on the rise again, and some mine operators are exploiting loopholes in obsolete rules to evade compliance. The present system is badly broken and improvements are desperately needed. It's time to move forward on modern protections based on years of careful scientific study. Blocking efforts by the Mine Safety and Health Administration to modernize miner protections will only cost lives, careers, and family income for those who go underground every day."

Four days earlier, on July 13, the Education and the Workforce Committee's chairman, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., had responded to the reports of increased black lung cases with a statement of his own: "After more than 40 years of working to reduce black lung among America's miners, it is deeply troubling the number of those afflicted by this deadly disease is rising. Increased coal demand and technological improvements in the mining industry are not acceptable excuses. Mine operators must abide by coal dust standards and enforcement officials must hold bad actors accountable when they don't. At the Upper Big Branch Mine, we learned Massey flouted coal dust standards while inspectors abandoned routine enforcement procedures. In one instance, a citation was issued for overexposure to coal dust, yet Massey was given more than four weeks to abate the hazard despite district policy allowing seven days. During a committee hearing on the 2010 tragedy, Secretary Main cited company abuse and a failure by MSHA to keep up with the system. Neither approach to safety is in the best interests of miners.

"Attempts to strengthen protections against black lung during previous administrations proved unsuccessful. Representatives from both industry and labor raised concerns and progress was stymied. Eliminating the threat of black lung is a difficult but critical challenge. I urge Secretary Main to bring together all interested parties in a renewed effort to find common ground that will improve the health of miners and reduce the risk of this deadly disease."

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