Early in today’s column about Trump’s comments about black lung, editor Myer tells us:
Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis, as the disease is known to medical professionals, is making a comeback.
No, it’s been back as a December 2017 Wheeling Intelligencer editorial told us almost 20 months ago:
In some areas, black lung is making a comeback, despite decades of regulations meant to curb it.
Yes, it’s been back but the Trump administration has done nothing about it. Two months after the Intelligencer editorial in February of 2018, this is what the National Safety Council reported the Trump administration was doing about it:
The Mine Safety and Health Administration has no immediate plans to change its regulation on respirable dust in coal mines, MSHA administrator David Zatezalo said Feb. 6 during a hearing before the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee.
But why is the black lung fund running out of money?
Myer doesn’t tell us for an obvious reason – that because of coal industry pressure, Republicans (who controlled both the House and Senate in 2018) allowed the Black Lung Excise Tax to be significantly reduced. As the conservative Roll Call explained earlier this year:
Mandatory disclosures show the coal lobby spent some of its influence money on discussions with lawmakers regarding the Black Lung Excise Tax and the trust fund that helps pay for the health and living benefits of sick coal workers whose employers have gone bankrupt, and their beneficiaries.
Industry efforts appear to have paid off as Congress did not act by Dec. 31  to extend the higher excise tax on coal companies, the primary source of money for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which was established in 1977.
Because of Congress’ inaction, the tax rate dropped at the beginning of this year to 50 cents per ton of underground-mined coal from $1.10 per ton last year, putting the fund at risk for insolvency.
The 55-cents-per-ton tax on surface coal also dropped to 25 cents per ton.
And it was not as though the Republicans had not been warned:
The Government Accountability Office reported in May 2018 that allowing the tax to drop would add to the troubles of the already financially beleaguered Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which has struggled from the beginning. Because its expenditures have “consistently” exceeded its revenue, the fund has borrowed almost every year since 1979, the GAO report said.
Fund-supporting Democrats control the House, so what is the problem? Simply put, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has done nothing in the Senate. Not that Kentucky miners haven’t tried to get him to move as they met with him earlier this week:
“He might’ve stayed a minute,” Jimmy Moore, the head of the Letcher County Black Lung Association, said about his rapid departure. “It was a worthless trip, that’s the way I feel.”
“We rode up here for 10 hours by bus to get some answers from him because he represents our state,” George Massey, a miner from Harlan County, Kentucky, told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “For him to come in for just two minutes was a low-down shame.”
According to OpenSecrets, McConnell has taken over a million dollars from the mining industry since 1989.
Blogger Charlie Pierce at Esquire was not as kind:
What a withered, tiny man it is, shining on the sick and dying. The miners' big mistake was in not coming to McConnell with fat checks in their pockets, instead of oxygen tanks by their sides. Don't they know how democracy works? When you're all done coughing, get with the program, people.
As this week’s rally in Wheeling demonstrated, we know how Donald Trump and Republicans feel about coal mine owners, it would be nice if they cared half as much about the miners.
Early in the piece, Myer want us to
Give Trump credit for knowing about black lung and deciding something needs to be done about it.
"Credit for knowing about black lung”? Really? Can we set the bar any lower for this president?