AFL-CIO Executive Council Says New Coal Dust Standard Will ‘Save Miners’ Lives’

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Water jets wet down a coal pile at an existing coal export terminal next to the proposed new one: Walter Simon

A new standard that limits miners’ exposure to the coal dust that causes black lung “will save miners’ lives,” the AFL-CIO Executive Council said in a statement issued Thursday at the council’s summer meeting at AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration issued the final rule in April and it goes into effect Aug. 1. Since 1968, more than 76,000 coal miners have died from this deadly lung disease caused by exposure to coal dust. Thousands more have been disabled, unable to breathe as the dust destroys their lungs.

Along with reducing permissible levels of coal dust, the standard requires more thorough and accurate monitoring and empowers coal miners to take action to protect health and safety.

“The AFL-CIO applauds the Department of Labor for taking this important action and thanks Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and MSHA Assistant Secretary Joe Main for their leadership and fierce dedication to protecting workers,” the council said. “The AFL-CIO commits to work with MSHA, the UMWA and other unions to see that the new coal dust rules are fully and effectively implemented and enforced.”

Meanwhile, on another federal front where coal mining meets environmental regulations, Grist and Mother Jones magazines are reporting that it is common for the coal industry and its conservative allies in politics and media to complain that President Obama is waging a “war on coal.”

“It is certainly true that the share of American energy that comes from coal is declining,” reports Ben Adler of Grist. The problem is, he says, “Obama doesn’t actually deserve much of the credit for that.”

It’s mostly due to the natural gas boom, helped along by the rise of solar and grassroots organizing efforts such as the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

“Still, Obama is trying to move the energy sector further away from coal in the years ahead through his proposed CO2 regulations for power plants,” he says.

But coal extraction keeps chugging along, with much of the coal being exported to Asian countries that are hungry for energy to fuel their growing economies. And a lot of this mining is taking place on federal land, he says.

The Bureau of Land Management sells leases to coal companies at far below their market value, and even farther below the cost of their pollution on society. As we’ve previously noted, this is one of the ways the federal government subsidizes fossil fuel production. Such subsidies have actually grown during the Obama administration. Environmentalists say that Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy contradicts his professed commitment to reducing CO2 emissions, and undermines his efforts to do so.

See more in Mother Jones.

© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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