FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 29, 2023
Trey Pollard, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-904-9187
COAL COUNTRY – Today, 28 groups sent a letter to the Biden Administration urging the release of a long-delayed rule to protect coal miners from exposure to respirable silica – the principal cause of the resurgence of deadly black lung disease in coal miners. In the letter to Director Shalanda Young of the administration’s Office of Management and Budget, advocates note that the new silica dust rule shaped by the Mine Safety and Health Administration has been sitting under review at OMB for 162 days as of today, June 29th – nearly twice as long as the standard 90-day review period. The bureaucratic delays come after advocates for coal miners have fought to update MSHA’s silica standard – the only federal protection miners have from silica dust – for more than a decade.
“The longer the administration waits, the more miners will suffer and die. Mining families have waited far too long,” the letter says. “Please release the draft regulations and move swiftly to enact and enforce strong silica regulations.”
The silica standard for coal miners still has not been updated since 1985. In that time, health experts and government bodies have developed and rigorously reviewed scientific evidence and repeatedly concluded that MSHA’s silica standard is woefully ineffective and not protecting miners from the threats they face. Earlier this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared a new study that found that not only do modern coal miners have higher mortality rates from lung diseases like black lung and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than average American workers, but the risk has only worsened over time.
As advocates have fought for an updated silica standard, coal mining methods have changed so that miners are exposed to more silica dust. As larger, more accessible coal seams have become exhausted, miners are cutting through more rock and therefore inhaling toxic silica dust that causes the most severe forms of black lung, even after fewer years of exposure. Now, in Central Appalachia, one in five tenured miners here has black lung disease and one in 20 has the most severe and totally disabling form of black lung.
“This rock contains silica, and the resulting dust is 20 times more toxic than coal dust, leading to miners getting black lung disease much faster than ever before,” the letter says.
Over a decade ago, in 2010, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center petitioned MSHA to establish a dust standard for respirable crystalline silica. While MSHA responded and stated an intention to publish a proposed standard by April 2011, the rule was never promulgated and a decade of inaction followed. In 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration established a reduced silica standard for other occupations, but because MSHA oversees mining regulations, the change meant miners have less protection from silica than any other group of workers. In 2021, ACLC again petitioned for a silica dust rule and the rule was reportedly drafted and submitted to OMB in January, where it has since sat for months.
The delay has drawn the attention of Sens. Joe Manchin (WV), Sherrod Brown (OH), Bob Casey (PA), John Fetterman (PA), Mark Warner (VA), and Tim Kaine (VA) who jointly sent a letter to OMB last week to formally request additional information on the timetable for the rule’s release. Rep. Bobby Scott, Ranking Member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, also recently requested an update from the agency regarding the status of the rule, and urged swift action from the agency.
“Experts in the federal government and private industry have repeatedly stressed the hazard of respirable silica and counseled the Department of Labor (DOL) to adopt more stringent protections for silica exposure over the course of nearly 50 years,” said Ranking Member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), House Committee on Education and the Workforce. “Delays are deadly. [ The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs] infamously sat on OSHA’s silica rule for two and a half years. When the standard finally saw the light of day, OSHA estimated that it would ‘save more than 600 lives annually and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis,’ in addition to many cancers and other diseases averted. Workers and families suffered needlessly during the two and a half years that OIRA dawdled and dithered over OSHA’s silica rule. We cannot repeat this with MSHA’s proposed rule to protect miners from deadly silica dust. America’s miners, who power up this country, deserve action to protect their health.”
“For generations, our brave coal miners across America, especially Appalachia, have risked their lives and health to power our nation to greatness,” said Sen. Manchin (WV). “I was proud to lead last week’s letter urging OMB to provide information on the delayed announcement of a new silica standard for miners, which is essential for their health and safety. We have an obligation as a country to protect the health and welfare of our miners with common sense rules and regulations, and I’m grateful for the partnership of the many advocacy groups involved in this effort.”
Signers of the letter include:
United Mine Workers of America
National Black Lung Association
Fayette County, WV Black Lung Association
Kanawha County, WV Black Lung Association
Nicholas County, WV Black Lung Association
SWVA Black Lung Association Chapter 1
SWVA Black Lung Association Chapter 2
Wyoming County, WV Black Lung Association
The Alliance for Appalachia
Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center
Bronx Jews for Climate Action
Center For Coalfield Justice
Christians For The Mountains
Evangelical Environmental Network
Jobs with Justice of East Tennessee
Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN)
Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action
Respiratory Health Association
Southern Appalachian Labor School
Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM)
West Virginia Citizen Action
West Virginia Council of Churches