Miners' Safety and Health Debated at Oversight Hearing

Subcommittee Democrats called for the strengthening of health and safety of miners at the hearing.

The U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee's Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held a hearing entitled "Protecting Workers: Reviewing Mine Safety Policies with Stakeholders" on Oct. 21. Subcommittee Democrats called for strengthening health and safety protections for miners to help prevent black lung disease. They want to provide the Mine Safety and Health Administration with additional tools to enforce safety standards and level the playing field for claimants under the Black Lung Benefits Act of 2015.

"Coal miners face a number of challenges pursuing federal black lung claims, including finding legal representation and developing sound medical evidence to support their claims," said Ranking Member Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., during the hearing. "The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2015 ensures that miners have equal access to medical evidence and better access to legal resources. It also provides a remedy for those whose claims were denied due to recent discoveries of discredited medical evidence. This legislation will help miners and their families get the benefits they deserve."

At the hearing, witnesses Mike Wright of the United Steelworkers Union and Steve Sanders of the Appalachian Citizen's Law Center testified in support of legislative reforms to the Mine Act contained in the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act. They highlighted the need to help coal miners who are afflicted with black lung disease and are overmatched by coal companies who can hire medical experts and armies of lawyers and have been able to game the system by withholding evidence that would allow miners to prove eligibility for benefits, they said.

"The black lung benefits program is an adversarial system," said Sanders, director of the center, which represents black lung claimants in Eastern Kentucky. "But an adversarial system only works to deliver justice when both parties have equal resources. Too often miners do not have legal representation and, being disabled and not working; do not have the financial ability to pay for sophisticated medical testing to support their claim. The black lung benefits program needs improvements to provide for fairness and the efficient adjudications of claims."

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