by Charles Lemos, Thu Apr 07, 2011 at 12:33:01 PM EDT
With some 1,500 American miners still succumbing to black lung disease every year and the number rising, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is proposing a plan to reduce the number of such deaths through the stricter regulation of coals. But Kentucky's Tea Partying Senator Rand Paul is voicing opposition to the proposed new regulations saying that they would be "too costly."
“Every regulation doesn’t save lives,” Senator Paul said at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “There is a point or a balancing act between when a regulation becomes burdensome and our energy production is stifled. We have to assess the cost.”
By "cost", the libertarian Senator from Kentucky means the cost in dollars, not the cost in lives.
Senator Paul also argued that black lung disease is on the decline. Well this is really a case of when you pick your data point. Paul is saying that since 1970 when regulations were first enacted, black lung cases are on the decline. That's true. But also true is that they are now rising again after the Bush Administration loosened regulatory standards in 2001. Over the past decade, black lung disease has claimed the lives of over 10,000 miners.
From the Institute for Southern Studies:
Coal miners get black lung from breathing coal dust. The dust builds up in a miner's lungs and gradually reduces his ability to breathe. The body is unable to remove this dust from the lungs. Continued exposure to coal dust for a miner who has developed simple coal workers' pneumoconiosis results in complicated coal workers' pneumoconiosis marked by large, black, fibrotic scars from 2 to 10 centimeters in diameter. The lung appears blackened. Miners with black lung breathe short, raspy breaths. Black lung slowly strangles its victims to death.
Reports from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) tell us that between 1993 and 2002, West Virginia recorded nearly 2,300 deaths as a result of black lung. West Virginia recorded the highest number of age-adjusted black lung deaths for that time period nationwide.
NIOSH also reports a rise in the number of black lung cases from 1995 to the present time, indicating 13 percent of miners with 25 or more years experience have the disease. Southern West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and Southwestern Virginia show the largest increases. Data from the Enhanced Coal Workers' Health Surveillance Division of NIOSH report this fatal condition is appearing in miners at a younger age -- miners with less than 25 years in the mines.
Senator Paul said that he was concerned that these new MSHA regulations, the rules were actually first proposed last October, where too costly base on projections made by National Mining Association (NMA). The NMA told the Louisville Courier-Journal would cost the industry $1.8 billion in lost revenues, a figure the MSHA disputes.
This Tuesday marked the first anniversary of the Upper Big Branch tragedy in West Virginia. Twenty-nine out of 31miners at the site owned and operated by Massey Energy were killed making the Upper Big Branch the worst mining disaster in the United States since 1970. While the disaster has brought some renewed interest to mining standards and safety, Republicans continue to stymie any efforts to tighten mining regulation. For them, profits come before lives.