Arlington, VA – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Jan. 25 rejected two challenges from coal industry groups about a Mine Safety and Health Administration final rule intended to lower miner exposure to coal mine dust.
The petitioners – the National Mining Association, several Alabama-based coal mine operators and operators collectively known as Murray Energy – challenged MSHA’s authority to issue the rule under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, and argued that MSHA must act jointly with the Secretary of Health and Human Services and NIOSH. The petitioners also challenged “the substance of the rule” with various objections, including arguing that the regulation allows “too wide a variation” for sampling.
The court concluded that MSHA has the sole responsibility to issue regulations under the rule, and should consider insight from NIOSH. For the second challenge, the court determined that MSHA accounted for scientific evidence and “arrived at conclusions … worthy of deference.”
MSHA’s Final Rule to Lower Miners’ Exposure to Respirable Coal Mine Dust went into effect on Aug. 1, 2014, with Phase II set to begin on Feb. 1. Under the rule, mine operators must use continuous personal dust monitors to check jobs exposed to the highest respirable dust concentrations and miners with black lung disease. Operators also must increase sampling frequency in underground mines for jobs most exposed to respirable dust, as well as provide information on sampling to miners more rapidly.
“This is indeed a good day for coal miners,” MSHA administrator Joseph A. Main said in a press release. “For years, MSHA worked hard to craft a balanced rule that would allow miners to stay healthy and businesses to continue to operate. We listened closely to industry concerns throughout this process and, ultimately, finalized a regulation that fulfilled the promise Congress made in the Coal Act of 1969 – to reduce dust levels and prevent miners from getting black lung disease.”
Since 1969, 76,000 coal miners have died from black lung disease, and the rate of long-tenured miners identified with the condition has risen to 10 percent from 5 percent since the late 1990s, according to MSHA.
“When the final rule went into effect in August 2014, some critics insisted that mines would be unable to comply with the requirements. That assumption has been proved incorrect,” Main said in the release. “According to sampling results, industry compliance is at 99 percent. As we prepare for Phase II of the rule to begin on Feb. 1, I am increasingly hopeful that we can eradicate black lung once and for all.”