Colorado Deals with Strict New Coal Regulations

July 31, 2014

Miners should be breathing less coal dust when they start their shifts Friday in Colorado's eight producing coal mines, as well as in all underground and surface coal mines across the country.

Friday will see the first coal-dust-minimizing regulations in 45 years go into effect. The regulations will bring immediate, and controversial, changes in air sampling and monitoring and increased medical testing of miners.

The new regulations are designed to lessen the cases of black lung disease, which still leads to 280 deaths a year. More changes are to be phased in during the next two years.

"This is a new day for American coal miners. This is a better day for them," Mine Safety and Health Administration Assistant Secretary Joe Main said in a phone interview. "It's long overdue."

To some in the industry, the new regulations are misguided. The National Mining Association is challenging the new rules in court.

"We think the agency (MSHA) missed an opportunity to address a known problem," said NMA senior vice president Bruce Watzman in a phone interview. "The agency focused on the entirety of the industry where the problem doesn't exist rather than on what we believe is a localized problem."

Watzman said many of the black lung cases are concentrated in the Appalachia area, where the mines contain more silica dust.

More than 76,000 miners have died since 1968 of pneumoconiosis, emphysema and progressive massive fibrosis — diseases collectively referred to as black lung.

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