The Obama administration finalized a rule on April 21 that would cut in half the amount of coal dust that miners can be exposed to. Originally proposed in October 2010, the rule would restrict the exposure levels of coal dust from 2 milligrams of dust per cubic meter of air down to 1 milligram. The new limit is aimed at lowering the incidents of black lung suffered by coal miners and will be phased in over the next two years.
Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez and Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health (MSHA) Joseph A. Main will announce the completed rule in Morgantown, West Virginia on April 22.
The MSHA has long argued that the standards, unchanged since 1972, were out-of-date. When it first proposed a rule change, in 2010, Main said in a statement that it “would bring us many steps closer to overhauling an outdated program that has failed to adequately protect miners from breathing unhealthy levels of coal mine dust and achieving the intent of Congress to eliminate black lung disease.”
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The National Mining Association opposes the regulation, which it calls “unwarranted and misdirected.” It claims long term trends show declining cases of black lung. The NMA also disputed the science that MSHA based the new regulation on.
However, a report this month from the Government Accountability Office corroborated the science used by MSHA to justify lower limits on coal dust. The rule will incrementally tighten the limit from the current 2 milligrams per cubic meter to 1.7 mg per cubic meter within six months, then to 1.5 mg next year, and to 1 mg in two years.
By Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com