Coal Miner
Photo by Earl Dotter.

When I noted last week that OSHA had come out of the new Fall 2017 Regulatory Agenda relatively unscathed, I neglect to note that the same was not true for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) — and the miners it is supposed to protect.

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta claimed last week that Trump’s regulatory policies were “bringing common sense to regulations that hold back job creation and prosperity” and that “The Department of Labor will continue to protect American workers’ interests while limiting the burdens of over-regulation.”

Apparently the “interests of American workers” don’t include the health of miners’ lungs.

According to the regulatory agenda issued last week, MSHA is requesting public comment on two issues which may lead to weakening regulations issued by MSHA in 2014 increasing the protections for miners against black lung and diesel exhaust which can cause lung disease and cancer:

(1) MSHA’s existing standards and regulations that could be improved or made more effective or less burdensome by accommodating advances in technology, innovative techniques, or less costly methods, including the requirements that could be streamlined or replaced in frequency; and

(2) The Agency’s retrospective review of the final rule entitled Lowering Miners’ Exposure to the Respirable Coal Mine Dust, Including Continuous Personal Dust monitors (CPDM) (Dust). Stakeholder comments will assist MSHA in evaluating whether modifications of existing standards and regulations can better achieve regulatory objectives and, for the retrospective study, will assist MSHA in evaluating whether the final Dust rule is achieving respirable dust levels to protect miners’ health.

As Ken ward notes in the Charleston Gazette:

The Trump administration’s moves come as researchers are increasingly concerned about a resurgence in lung disease among coal miners, especially in West Virginia and other Appalachian coal states. Black lung, or coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, is the common name for a collection of debilitating and potentially fatal ailments caused by breathing coal dust.

In 1969, when it passed landmark mine safety legislation, Congress made eliminating black lung a national goal, but between 1968 and 2014, more than 76,000 coal miners nationwide died from the disease.

Safety advocates are especially worried that the most recent research shows black lung affecting younger miners whose entire careers took place after the 1969 law took effect.

Mine safety advocates are worried:

“I think it’s a very bad signal for coal miners that MSHA is wanting to revisit the issue of coal dust and rock dust as well as diesel exhaust,” said attorney Tony Oppegard, who represents miners in safety cases. “I don’t think the Trump administration has coal miners’ best interests at heart. They’re aligned with coal mine operators as opposed to miners, and the only reasons they would want to reopen these rules or revisit these rules are to weaken them.”

Needless to say, the mining industry is pleased.  The National Mining Association says that the request for information might shed “valuable information on operation of the rule” and a spokesman for Murray Energy says that the company  “is pleased that the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is reexamining the Obama administration’s Respirable Dust Rule, which fails to protect coal miners in any way.”

Murray Energy, West Virginia’s largest coal producer, is owned by Bob Murray, who owned the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah where six trapped miners died in 2007.  Murray has always blamed the collapse on an earthquake, which even George Bush’s MSHA denied.  Murray has come into the news again recently when he sued comedian John Oliver who did a hilarious piece on Murray on Last Week Tonight after Murray Energy sent a cease and desist order to the show.

Murray was also a major advocate to David Zatezalo to be head of MSHA. Zatezalo was confirmed by the Senate and sworn into the job last month. During his confirmation hearing, he testified that “The increase [in black lung] that’s been discussed is certainly unacceptable.”


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