Legislation requiring coal companies to contribute to the Black Lung Disability Trust expired earlier this year when Congress failed to act.
While the legislation was in effect, an excise tax rate of $1.10 per ton of underground mined coal; now that has been cut by more than half to about 50 cents, according to AP reporter Dylan Lovan.
You might ask: Why should I care? What is Black Lung? Aren’t there more important issues now? And fossil fuels are no longer important as we address climate change. Coal is yesterday’s news. Why don’t those coal miners get other jobs?
I was in Harlan County, Kentucky, in October, and a group of miners came into the restaurant where my extended family and I were having supper. These miners were young, robust, and happy as they conversed with the waitpersons and enjoyed the mariachi band. Part of the reason for their pleasure was it was Friday and they had hefty paychecks in their pockets. They were also covered in coal dust from their heads to their feet and were certainly not ashamed of that.
In a county were unemployment is high, these miners are privileged to have a job and a job with great pay.
What my son Lance pointed out to me later, however, was that these miners had obviously not been wearing dust masks or respirators while underground to help protect them from the impact of inhaling coal dust because their faces were covered with coal dust.
Black Lung disease is the result of exposure to breathing coal dust over a period of time. There is no cure and the coal dust inflames lung tissue and then scars it.
The New York Times reported on Feb. 22, 2018, “Federal investigators this month identified the largest cluster of advanced black lung cases ever officially recorded.” Many in the group had been mining for fewer than 20 years.
You might ask: Why don’t miners use proper equipment? I don’t know the answer to that question, but the most simple is probably a belief that “It will never happen to me” — just as smokers are in denial about the ramifications of their nicotine use and those who ride motorcycles with no helmets say they are exercising their rights and believe their skill levels will protect them from crashing.
I’m more than acquainted with Black Lung as I watched my father-in-law, Roy Lee Blevins, die from the disease. He sued the company for which he worked and was awarded a paltry sum. From the first time I met him until his death 13 years later, I watched his steady decline: coughing and trying to catch his breath, giving up squirrel hunting, and then ceasing gardening , a source of pride. He finally was not able to meet his friends in the neighborhood for their nightly chats about national and local news, and he held on to furniture to support himself as he moved through his home. His story, with modifications, is being carried out now in coal mining areas.
So what is my complaint? With the favoritism being shown currently to big business/industry with exemption from many regulations, funds such as the one requiring monies for the disease Black Lung, resulting from working in underground coal mining, quickly get depleted, and we borrow monies from the U.S. Treasury Department to fund them. That’s you and me, and the national deficit continues to mount.
Meanwhile, those who own the coal mines and are freed from paying a significant portion of the trust fund for miners with Black Lung live at a great distance from the mines (absentee landlords) and have no investments in those communities. As soon as they no longer are making big profits from coal, they take their money and move elsewhere where big money is to be made, leaving behind scarred landscapes and scarred lives.
So why should we care about a tiny column in an area newspaper “Miners fund cut will hit taxpayers?” 2019 is virtually over, and your taxes now and next year — and for years after- will be spent in paying for this little atrocity and many more like it when common sense tells you that this bill should be sent to mine owners.
A little side note: Former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler has been moving quickly ahead since his initial appointment to the EPA by President Trump in October of 2017. The Senate confirmed him on Feb. 28 of this year as the chief administrator. Does this appointment have anything to do with Congress’ failure to act to renew that Black Lung Trust Fund legislation earlier this year?
Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., teaches telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and works with veterans. You may reach her at 937-778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.