Press Release

SWVA advocates urge Congress to fight for investments to tackle growing black lung crisis

March 13, 2024

Trey Pollard – – 202-904-9187


COAL COUNTRY — With coal miners in Southwestern Virginia facing an epidemic as black lung disease hits unprecedented levels and 1 in 5 veteran coal miners in Central Appalachia now suffer from the disease, advocates today called on Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., and Sens. Warner and Kaine, D-Va. to prioritize investments in taking care of miners in the 2025 federal budget.

All of Virginia’s active coal mines are in Griffith’s district, and in the coming months, the Mine Safety and Health Administration will release a new standard to curb the silica dust exposure that is behind much of the resurgence of the disease. Now, advocates in Southwestern Virginia are urging Griffith, Kaine, and Warner to fight for adequate funding to back the implementation of the forthcoming rule and support other efforts to protect and support miners with black lung in his district.

“The miners who sacrificed their health and their lives to help power our country are the backbone of Southwestern Virginia, and they deserve the support of our leaders in Washington,” said Vonda Robinson, a resident of Nickelsville, Virginia and the Vice President of the National Black Lung Association.

In a letter to congressional appropriations committee leaders sent today, 22 local, regional, and national organizations pushed for FY25 legislation that prioritizes investments in curbing black lung and supporting miners already living with the disease. The requests come amid dangerous efforts by Rep. Scott Perry, R-Penn., to cut all funding for MSHA’s pending silica dust rule, which would effectively render that life-saving policy completely toothless.

“Some in Congress are putting the profits of a handful of coal executives before the health and safety of thousands of hard-working miners,” said Chelsea Barnes, a resident of Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and the Director of Government Affairs and Strategy for Appalachian Voices. “We urge Rep. Griffith and Sens. Kaine and Warner to stand with these miners and secure the resources that are needed to tackle the black lung crisis.”

Advocates identified three key areas for funding in the FY25 appropriations process:

  • Fulfilling MSHA’s FY25 budget request at $406.5 million, particularly to support the implementation of the new silica dust limits;
  • Maintained funding for federal black lung clinics at $12.19 million;
  • Support for the Center for Disease Control’s Occupational Safety & Health Budget at at $363.2 million;

In addition, the advocates urge Congress to take action to adjust how monthly black lung benefit rates are calculated. Currently tied to the federal pay scale rather than the cost of living, benefit rates are substantially lower than the cost of living in many coal mining communities, as indicated by recent research from Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and Appalachian Voices.

“The benefits for a miner and a dependent in 2024 is $1,159 a month — more than $3,000 lower than the average cost of living for two people in coal communities like Indiana County, Pennsylvania; Pike County, Kentucky; and Kanawha County, West Virginia,” reads the letter. “The fix is simple. Congress simply needs to tie black lung benefit adjustments to the cost of living rather than the federal pay scale.”

Legislation co-sponsored by Kaine and Warner introduced last year known as the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act would make this fix, but Griffith has not co-sponsored the House version of the bill.

“Rep. Griffith has always supported miners by helping make sure the black lung clinics are funded. But as black lung is ravaging our families and communities, we’re hopeful that he will lead legislation to support miners with black lung disease and their families, who are struggling to make ends meet once they are too sick to work,” said Robinson. “Our miners with black lung disease deserve higher benefits.”

While Congress has only recently advanced funding to keep the government open in 2024, the FY25 budget process is nearly in full swing. Today’s letter is signed by groups including the National Black Lung Association, the Respiratory Health Association, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, ReImagine Appalachia, and the Citizens Coal Council.

# # #


Facebook Twitter Instagram Youtube