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Some lawmakers want to strip funding for regulation that would protect miners from black lung

On a wall at a physical rehab clinic, is an image of a tree. On the tree are dozens of faces, some old, some young, all men, many wearing miner helmets.
Roxy Todd
Radio IQ
Tree of miners' faces at New Beginnings Pulmonary Rehab clinic in Norton, Va. These are the men who have come to the clinic for help managing symptoms related to Black Lung disease. Some have passed away.

Just before Thanksgiving, Republican Congressman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill, H.B. 5894, for the Department of Labor. The amendment strips funding for a pending regulation that would help protect miners from getting black lung.

Earlier this year, the Department of Labor proposed a draft rule that would cut allowable silica dust levels in half. Miners are exposed to silica dust when they cut through rock. The agency hasn't yet released the final version of the silica rule.

Researchers with the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health say silica dust continues to cause higher rates of advanced black lung than ever recorded, especially in Appalachia.

Numerous investigative reports by NPR show that federal officials have long known of the dangers of silica exposure. As far back as the 1990s, staff inside the Mine Safety and Health Administration identified the need to have tighter regulations.

It’s taken more than two decades to get a draft of new silica limits to the White House for review. Some environmental groups and mine safety advocates have criticized the proposed rule for being lax when it comes to enforcement measures.

In his amendment, Perry asks that no money for the Department of Labor will be spent enforcing new silica standards during the current 2023-2024 fiscal year. It's not clear whether this would delay the federal government from releasing a final version of the rule, if the appropriations bill as it currently stands is passed.

Morgan Griffith, who represents southwest Virginia, which has some of the highest numbers of miners with black lung, was not on the house floor when Perry's amendment vote was called.

The amendment passed by voice vote, and the appropriations bill could go to a full vote in the House sometime this week.

The White House released a statement opposing the bill, because it also makes cuts to education, and health.

Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.