Coal miners plead with feds for stronger enforcement during emotional hearing on black lung rule
August 10, 2023
BEAVER, W.Va. (AP) — Laboring to breathe, West Virginia coal miner Terry Lilly told federal regulators Thursday he is appreciative the U.S. government is finally considering a proposal to limit the poisonous rock dust causing a severe resurgence of black lung.
But Lilly said the rule — a half-century in the making — will mean nothing if there aren’t strict enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure companies comply.
“Cheating the samples is what we need to stop. If we can stop this, we can save some lives,” said Lilly, asking officials to excuse him as a took a pause to catch his breath. He’s now limited to 40% lung capacity, he said.
Lilly was one of the dozens of miners and advocates who came to the historic coal-mining county in West Virginia’s southern coalfields to discuss a proposed rule from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration that would cut the current limit for silica dust exposure in half.
During an emotional, hours-long hearing — the second of three before public comment on the proposal ends next month — miners spoke about their fear of retaliation for speaking up about unsafe dust levels and being asked by companies to help falsify samples. They said the government needs more inspectors to spend more time in the mines making sure existing rules are followed. Otherwise, new regulation won’t make a meaningful difference, they said.
“When I speak about this, people look at me like I’m stupid,” Lilly, who said miners don’t always feel like the federal government takes their concerns seriously. “I’ve got 30 years of experience. I know the tricks and how they operate.”
United Mine Workers of America
18354 Quantico Gateway Drive
Triangle, VA 22172