House committee advances reckless bill that blocks life-saving silica standard

July 10, 2024

Trey Pollard, Pollard Communications, (202) 904-9187,
Dan Radmacher, Media Specialist, (540) 798-6683, 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the House Appropriations Committee approved a dangerous appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. Among other disastrous provisions, the bill would block funding for the recently finalized rule to protect miners from silica dust — a significant driver of the resurgence of black lung disease in Central Appalachia. The provision would effectively render the rule toothless, leaving miners to face deadly levels of exposure to the silica dust that has spurred a black lung epidemic, with 1 in 5 veteran coal miners in Central Appalachia now suffering from the disease. The legislation was approved 31-25.

This is not the first time some in Congress have tried to block this life-saving standard from taking effect. In November, 2023, Republican Congressman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania introduced an amendment to a similar appropriations bill. That amendment passed by voice vote but the underlying legislation did not become law at the time.

Miners with black lung and their families have been fighting for protections from deadly silica dust for years,” said Vonda Robinson, Vice President, National Black Lung Association. “We know that those in the mines are getting sicker faster than ever because of silica dust, and we’re grateful MSHA finally took action to help. It’s very disheartening to see a handful of Washington politicians try and undo all this hard work on a whim. If this policy becomes law, it will put the lives of countless miners at risk. Mining families deserve better, and we urge Congress to throw out this dangerous policy and get to work helping miners, not making their lives much harder.”

The rule cuts the amount of silica dust a miner can be exposed to during an eight-hour shift from 100 micrograms per cubic meter to 50 — matching the exposure limit for workers in other industries. Some advocates for miners with black lung and their families have several concerns about the rule, but have argued it should be strengthened to better protect miners, not repealed. Blocking the rule’s implementation would put miners at far greater risk for developing severe black lung disease, which is incurable and fatal.

“It is shameful that some in Congress would play politics with the lives of the coal miners who too often sacrifice their health to power our country,” said Chelsea Barnes, Director of Government Affairs and Strategy for Appalachian Voices. “This deadly provision should never see the light of day, and we hope funding for the silica rule will be restored via an amendment on the House floor. Make no mistake: blocking the silica dust standard will cost lives. It is imperative that Congress strike this reckless provision as the legislative process moves forward.”

Prior to the finalization of this rule, the silica standard for coal miners had not been updated since 1985. Since then, mining methods have changed as larger, more accessible coal seams have been exhausted. Miners now must cut through more rock, leading to more exposure to silica dust that is 20 times more toxic than coal dust and causes the most severe forms of black lung even after fewer years of exposure. Based on scientific evidence, health experts and government agencies have repeatedly concluded that this silica dust exposure is a major cause of the black lung epidemic and that the outdated MSHA silica standard was woefully ineffective at protecting miners from this threat. Now, in Central Appalachia, one in five tenured miners has black lung disease and one in 20 has the most severe and totally disabling form of black lung. 

“The new silica dust rule is not perfect, but it is an important step forward to protect the health and safety of hard-working miners,” said Brendan Muckian-Bates, Policy & Advocacy Associate, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center. “This dangerous provision, however, is a dramatic leap backwards that would put lives at risk and allow the black lung epidemic to continue to spread in spite of decades of advocacy to tackle this crisis. We need every tool possible to protect the health of miners, and we urge every member of Congress — especially House Republicans — with coal miners and those with black lung as constituents to work with their colleagues in deleting this section from the final bill.”