Manchin, Casey, Scott and Cartwright Introduce Bills to Protect Miners and Strengthen Safety Standards
Legislation would prevent coal companies from unfairly denying benefits to deserving miners and families
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Bob Casey (D-PA) and House Education and the Workforce Ranking Member Bobby Scott (VA-03) and Congressman Matt Cartwright (PA-17) introduced the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 and the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2017. These bills would reform the federal program that provides benefits to coal miners suffering from black lung disease and provide the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) with improved tools to investigate unsafe mines and ensure that irresponsible mine operators are held accountable.
“On this sad anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, we are reminded that no family or community should ever endure a preventable tragedy like the one at Upper Big Branch again,” Senator Manchin said. “The health and safety of our miners will always be my top priority. It is critical that we continue to improve our safety standards so that our miners’ lives are never in jeopardy and that is why I’m re-introducing the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act. This important legislation will ensure we keep our promises to America’s brave miners by helping to close backlogs in benefits claims, hold safety violators accountable for negligence, and reform a broken liability system.
“Coal miners and their families deserve action on safety and benefits, not more talk,” said Senator Casey. “We owe them honest health and safety protections. It’s time we enforce meaningful, commonsense protections that every worker deserves.”
“The reforms proposed in the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act and Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act are long overdue,” said Scott. “The black lung reforms would ensure that miners have equal access to medical evidence and better access to legal resources. The Byrd improvements would strengthen MSHA’s authority and deliver stronger criminal penalties needed to deter operators who knowingly operate outside the margins of safety and recklessly expose miners to serious risk of injury or death.”
“Black lung is a debilitating, often fatal disease. Thousands of coal miners develop black lung, yet coal companies exploit federal loopholes to avoid compensating them,” said Cartwright. “We must reform the claims process to ensure these hard-working miners and their families receive the benefits they deserve. This bill would help miners obtain unbiased medical evidence, ample legal representation, and up-to-date benefit payments adjusted to cost-of-living increases.”
The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act would reform the federal program that provides benefits to coal miners suffering from black lung disease. Federal law requires that coal companies compensate disabled miners who contract black lung, which is caused by inhaling coal dust over an extended period of time, but coal companies routinely deploy an array of unfair tactics to avoid paying miners the benefits they deserve. The bill would allow miners, or their survivors, to reopen their cases if they had been denied because of unscrupulous medical interpretations that have since been discredited. Read the text of the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act here.
The Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act would improve mine safety and close glaring loopholes in our nation’s mine safety laws that could help save miners’ lives. Moreover, it would make it more difficult for corporate management to put profits and production ahead of the safety of miners. Read the text of the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act here.
The Members introduced the legislation on the seventh anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster in West Virginia – a completely preventable coal dust explosion that took the lives of 29 miners and remains the worst coal mine disaster in this country in 40 years. This was a direct result of corporate management consistently putting profits and coal production ahead of the safety of the miners who worked there. Coal miners face a number of challenges when pursuing federal black lung claims, including finding legal representation and developing sound medical evidence to support their claims. The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 ensures that miners have equal access to medical evidence and better access to legal resources. The Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2017 helps to prevent work place safety violations and save miner’s lives.
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