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Rockefeller introduces bill to reduce black lung

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Sen. Jay Rockefeller on Aug. 1 introduced his third bill this year to protect the health and benefits of coal miners.

The most recent effort is the Black Lung Health Improvements Act of 2013. According to Rockefeller's office, the proposed law would help prevent black lung disease by:

  • Proposing new respirable coal dust standards for those already suffering so their exposure to black lung-causing substances is reduced
  • Increasing miners' access to their health records in the black lung claims process
  • Making it easier for miners to access legal representation when operators refuse to provide benefits
  • Creating new grants for research into the disease; making it easier for long-time miners and their families to collect black lung benefits
  • Requiring the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study ways to make the application process for black lung disability claims easier for miners to navigate, among other provisions

"There was a time when we all thought Black Lung was going to become eradicated. That it was a relic of a more dangerous time for our coal miners. Tragically, that was wrong.  After years of decline, Black Lung cases are rising again in a new generation of miners. We can't let this happen," Rockefeller said in a news release.

"This bill is an important next step in our ongoing fight for miners' health and safety. But it is not, and should not be the end of Congressional action on Black Lung," Rockefeller added. "These men and women have one of the hardest and most challenging jobs on the planet. It's a job that requires strength, dedication and courage – and it's a job that should be met with access to the best health support we can provide."

Rockefeller introduced at least two other mine-related bills this year. The Coalfield Accountability and Retired Employee (CARE) Act, which he introduced in March, would protect benefits for thousands of retired miners whose livelihoods are in jeopardy as Patriot Coal tries to shed its pension and health care obligations in bankruptcy court. In April, he re-introduced an updated version of his comprehensive mine safety legislation, the Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act, aimed at fixing the glaring safety problems revealed in the wake of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.