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Rep. McKinley Called “Coal Dust Hypocrite” For Opposing Black Lung Rules

PHOTO: Rep. David McKinley
PHOTO: Rep. David McKinley
August 6, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia First District Congressman David McKinley describes himself as a supporter of coal miners. But he's catching grief from miners over a vote late last month to block tighter rules on black lung disease, or pneumoconiosis, which affects coal workers.

House Republicans, including McKinley, have blocked federal mine safety officials from putting in regulations designed to address a surge of deaths and disability among miners exposed to high levels of coal dust.

Disabled miner Chuck Nelson says his health was damaged at mines that broke current black lung rules. He calls McKinley a coal dust hypocrite.

"He's taken the money from the coal industry. They've paid him to say such and such a thing, and that's what he's doing."

Federal campaign records show that of McKinley's top ten all-time contributors, six are mining companies and another two are mine equipment makers.

The most recent effort to block the new black lung rules came as part of a bill House Republicans say would stop over-regulation by the Department of Labor. An amendment by McKinley actually made the bill tougher. But Phil Smith with the United Mine Workers says that with the right regulations, properly enforced, coal dust exposure would no longer be a slow death sentence.

"This isn't a matter of over-regulation: this is a matter of life and death for thousands of miners. When we're seeing miners in their twenties contracting this disease, something is clearly very very wrong."

McKinley has sponsored legislation to streamline black lung benefit paperwork. That bill would have no direct effect on conditions in the mines. Chuck Nelson says the real problem is a small number of rogue coal operators, like some of his former bosses, who could get around current requirements on things like dust monitors and ventilation curtains.

"The curtain was only hung and the dust pumps were only on, personally, when the mine inspector was standing right over top of us."

Smith says a proposal for individual dust monitors would make cheating harder, and Congress should act.

"For a politician to stand up for those who are trying to essentially seek a competitive advantage by putting miners' lives at risk, really isn't the right path they should be taking."

In spite of multiple phone calls and e-mails, including written questions submitted to his office, McKinley refuses to comment.

HR 4078 passed the house 245-172 on July 26.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV