Last updated: August 13. 2013 4:26AM - 2119 Views

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Coal miners who are struggling with the chronic illness known as black lung shouldn’t be forced to fight long and bitter battles with Washington for their hard-earned benefits. That’s why new legislation recently introduced by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is welcomed.

The Black Lung Health Improvements Act of 2013 will help prevent black lung disease by proposing new respirable coal dust standards for those already suffering from the disease so that their exposure to black lung-causing substances can be reduced; increase miners’ access to their health records in the black lung claims process; make it easier for miners to access legal representation when operators refuse to provide benefits; create new grants for research into the disease; make it easier for long-time miners and their families to collect black lung benefits; and require the Government Accountability Office to study ways to make the application process for black lung disability claims easier for miners to navigate, among other provisions.

Unfortunately, many miners across our region have seen their federal black lung benefits routinely delayed or denied altogether. Some cases have taken decades to resolve. That’s why we welcome the ongoing efforts by Rockefeller to protect health care and pension benefits while also strengthening mine safety standards.

“It’s been my mission for nearly 50 years to keep our miners and their families safe, secure and healthy,” Rockefeller said in announcing the Black Lung Health Improvements Act of 2013. “At the very heart of that work is making absolutely sure that no miner is forced to suffer from black lung disease — and if they’re suffering, making sure that they get the benefits and care they need to help manage this debilitating condition.”

The legislation is the third measure introduced by Rockefeller this year as it relates to coal miners and the industry in general. In March, Rockefeller introduced the Coalfield Accountability and Retired Employee Act, a measure aimed at protecting benefits for thousands of retired miners, and in April he re-introduced an updated version of the Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act, aimed at fixing safety problems revealed in the wake of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

Rockefeller also wrote a letter Tuesday to President Barack Obama asking him to speed up issuing new regulations designed to reduce black lung and protect miners.

The latest measure introduced by Rockefeller is welcomed, and merits full congressional approval. Coal miners who have labored for years deep underground in the mountains of southern West Virginia and neighboring Southwest Virginia should not be forced to fight for federal benefits that they are rightfully entitled to.

The new legislation will assist in protecting the health of miners while also ensuring a timely delivery of their hard-earned benefits. We see no reason why it shouldn’t pass the U.S. Senate, and ultimately the U.S. House of Representatives.

— Bluefield Daily Telegraph

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