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Black Lung

Trump's Policies Won't Bring Back Coal Jobs -- They Will Kill More Miners

By Michael Arria - Truthout, February 4, 2018

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump consistently claimed that he would revive the coal industry, and since becoming president, he has consistently declared victory. "Since the fourth quarter of last year until most recently, we've added almost 50,000 jobs in the coal sector," Donald Trump announced last June. "In the month of May alone, almost 7,000 jobs."

Trump was presumably repeating a number he had heard mentioned by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who proudly touted the 50,000 figure in various media appearances last year. Pruitt's numbers are, in fact, way off. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from the beginning of 2017 through that May, about 33,000 "mining and coal" jobs were created. That's obviously much lower than 50,000. Plus, most of those 33,000 jobs actually came from a subcategory called "support activities for mining." When Trump made that statement, the actual number of new coal jobs was about 1,000. Now it's about 1,200. Preliminary government data recently obtained by Reuters shows that Trump's efforts to increase mining jobs have failed in most coal-producing states.

In addition to coal production dropping off, solar and wind power are now a cheaper option, and more Americans are becoming aware of coal's devastating environmental impact. Even early Trump supporter Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, the country's biggest privately held coal company, admitted that the president "can't bring mining jobs back."

Trump took credit for airline safety in 2017. What about the surge in coal miner deaths?

By Mark Hand - ThinkProgress, January 2, 2018

President Donald Trump is taking credit for what a new study is calling the safest year on record for commercial aviation. The president, however, is refusing to take responsibility for what his mine safety agency is saying was a year where almost twice as many coal mine workers died on the job than the final year of the Obama administration.

On Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted: “Since taking office, I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation. Good news — it was just reported that there were zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!”

Over the past 20 years, the average number of airliner accidents has shown a steady and persistent decline, thanks to “safety-driven efforts” by international aviation organizations and the aviation industry, according to the Aviation Safety Network, an independent research group. Nowhere in the analysis did the researchers mention efforts by the Trump administration as a reason for the airline safety improvement.

In the coal mining sector, data from the Trump administration’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the federal government’s mine safety agency, show coal mining deaths nearly doubled in 2017. But unlike the aviation statistics, Trump isn’t taking any personal responsibility for the coal mining deaths. What’s more, he tapped a former coal executive with a record of safety violations to head MSHA.

The death of a coal miner in Fayette County, West Virginia, on December 29 brought the total number of U.S. coal mining fatalities in 2017 to 15, according to MSHA’s website. Eight of the 15 coal mining deaths last year occurred in West Virginia. The remaining deaths occurred in Kentucky, Montana, Wyoming, Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. In the previous year, under President Barack Obama, the coal industry saw its lowest number of coal mining fatalities to date, with eight deaths recorded across the country.

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Trump claims he’s fighting for coal miners, but he’s reevaluating the rule protecting them from black lung

By Mark Hand - Think Progress, December 15, 2017

The Trump administration intends to examine whether it should weaken rules aimed at fighting black lung among coal miners, a move the administration says could create a “less burdensome” regulatory environment for coal companies.

As part of his mission to drastically cut federal regulations, President Donald Trump appeared to indicate Thursday that he is willing to risk greater harm to workers, including stymieing efforts to reduce black lung in coal communities, to appease his deep-pocketed corporate supporters. This anti-regulation effort stands in stark relief to Trump’s rhetoric — starting in his days on the campaign trail — that continually portrays himself as pro-coal miner.

Plans to reexamine a mine safety dust rule rule, implemented three years ago, were highlighted in an anti-regulation agenda released Thursday by the Trump administration. At a White House event, Trump touted his administration’s progress in cutting regulations, saying he wants to return the federal government to the level of regulations that existed in 1960.

In August 2014, the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) respirable dust rule went into effect. The long-delayed rule sought to lower miners’ exposure to respirable coal dust, the primary cause of black lung disease, also known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. According to statistics, black lung is a disease that has been a contributing factor in the death of more than 76,000 coal miners since 1968.

The Trump administration said MSHA, an agency of the Department of Labor tasked with regulating and enforcing health and safety issues for the nation’s mining sector, will be conducting a “retrospective review” of the landmark final rule, officially known as the “Lowering Miners’ Exposure to the Respirable Coal Mine Dust, Including Continuous Personal Dust Monitors.”

Ken Ward Jr. reported Thursday in the Charleston Gazette-Mail that the Trump administration will be reviewing the safety rules at the same time as a resurgence in lung disease among coal miners, especially in West Virginia and other Appalachian coal states.

After years of decline, the crippling disease is rebounding, worse than before

By Dan Radmacher - Appalachian Voices, August 22, 2017

“There is an epidemic here in Southwest Virginia, in Eastern Kentucky, in Southern West Virginia,” says Ron Carson, director of the Black Lung Program at Virginia’s Stone Mountain Health Services. “Miners are getting sicker and dying at a much younger age. A lot of people are going to be shocked when they see the numbers.”

Carson has been working with researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to put hard numbers to this deadly resurgence, and he says they have been astounded by the number of cases Carson’s clinic is seeing of progressive massive fibrosis cases, the most serious form of black lung disease.

In a report from similar research released last December, NIOSH researchers found a cluster of 60 such cases from one Eastern Kentucky radiology practice over a nine-month period — three times the number of cases the national Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program found from 2011 to 2016.

Around the same time the NIOSH report was released, an NPR investigation by Howard Berkes aired that identified more than 1,000 cases of progressive massive fibrosis during the past decade — 10 times the number officially recognized by the federal government.

Complicated black lung is debilitating in the extreme, Carson says. “Some young miners come in to this clinic in wheelchairs because they don’t have enough breath to walk,” he says. “We have miners at age 28 with eight years of exposure to coal dust waiting for a lung transplant.”

Progressive massive fibrosis, like other forms of black lung disease, cannot be cured and is eventually fatal. Carson says the clinic focuses on easing the miners’ suffering. “We make every effort to give them a better quality of life,” he says. “Therapists do pulmonary rehab and work on patient education. They talk to them about winterizing their lungs — cold air has drastic effects on this condition.”

Jill Hutchison, the first director of the Black Lung Clinics Program in West Virginia and retired CEO of the West Virginia Primary Care Association, said the number of miners treated in West Virginia’s 18 black lung clinics increased by 26 percent last year.

“Black lung is not going away,” she says. “It is an ugly disease. It’s heart-breaking to watch a miner struggle just to breathe. The clinic’s helping black lung patients use medicine, dietary recommendations and exercise to improve their quality of life as much as possible.”

It’s the Pits: the Miner’s Blues

By Clancy Sigal - CounterPunch, April 25, 2017

Don’t go down in the mine, Dad,
Dreams very often come true;
Daddy, you know it would break my heart
If anything happened to you…

— in honor of 1907 South Wales mining disaster

I’ve never been down an American coal mine, among the least safest in the world, though have plunged thousands  of feet into the dark bowels of British pits in Yorkshire, Wales and Scotland, the world’s safest until they were closed by politicians and bean counters.

I have a selfish interest in coal mining since it was English pit men who first opened up their world to me  and encouraged my first writing.

Deep down in the hard-to-breath darkness at 2000 feet below the surface miners educated me how they’re aseparate culture, with its own taboos and permissions. At the coal face, hand-getting or machine-cutting, I saw them as skilled surgeons, or code breakers using logic to solve life and death problems underground, with super-sensitive ears for the faint early warning crack of a wall collapse or groan in a roof support.

Miners are a special, ancient breed whether in China, Poland or Appalachia; at their union’s strongest, which it’s not now, militant solidarity is bred in their bones. (See the Battle of Blair Mountain where massed miners shot it out with  federal troops and even the US air corps for the right to unionize.)

Gradually I climbed into a social class where “coal” became a dirty word because the getting of the decayed vegetation with its high carbon content became synonymous with earth’s destruction and our asthmatic lungs.

You know, shaved mountain tops, poisoned rivers, massive health costs to miners (black lung, silicosis, injuries) and any of us who has to breathe in the fossil-fuel fumes. Not to mention the harm to climate change.

Gas powered electricity (fracking) is allegedly cheaper. Cleaner, more modern, more accessible. Anyway Appalachian coal is giving out, and privately owned coal companies – whose safety records are an obscenity – daily go bankrupt abandoning their workers’ health benefits. Right now Wyoming with its open cast strip mining produces  more coal than traditional deep pit mines in the eastern mountains.

So what happens to the aging coal miners who voted for Trump on his promise to bring back jobs and restore coal  which none of them believed but had hopes he would care for them in a declining industry?

One of the thousands of reasons Hillary lost was going to coal-mining West Virginia which she won in 2008 and  telling them, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business” in the drive for clean energy. The voting miners preferred Trump’s hopeful lie to Clinton’s blunt death sentence. Who wouldn’t?

The gods of coal are vengeful. Today, the 80,000 or so remaining miners, out of a 1970 high of 140,000 and a  1920s high of 700,000, are getting royally screwed by Trump’s rich Republicans. In a word they’re being sent  on a fast ride to the cemetery by the people they voted for in such big numbers.

The Republican congress is twisting miners and their families in the wind by refusing, until the very last moment  and maybe not then, to honor promised federal health benefits that are used to beef up the much used Medicare and Medicaid. The loss of this government money is literally the difference between life and death for men on oxygen or  suffering other coal-related injuries.

A double kick in the face: Trump is also defunding the Appalachian Regional Commission and U.S Economic Development Commission set up specifically to cushion coal’s collapse.

An amazing number of people, still traumatized by Hillary’s defeat, say Trump’s betrayals are only what the miners deserve.  Or as one NYT reader wrote from W. Virginia, “I have run out of patience and empathy for these  people…They’re…ignorant… and generally not interested in anything but being a coal miner, shooting wild animals and each other, getting drunk or high,  and qualifying for disability.”

Oh, have I run into such soured Democrats! They can’t forgive coal miners for voting the wrong way but above all for  being the stubborn rednecks they are. Why can’t they be more like us, and vote the right way and stop being so damn poor?

The Republican agenda is clear. One by one knock off the most vulnerable then the least unionized then the rest of us, all in good time. The Appalachian miners are not our past but our future.

Without the Union…

By Nick Mullins - The Thoughtful Coal Miner, December 20, 2016

By the time I started my coal mining “career” in 2007, the union was all but gone in southwestern Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and southern West Virginia. I had been raised union and knew the benefits that came with it, but in its absence, I ended up joining thousands of other young men naive enough to believe we didn’t need a union. It  didn’t take long to realize how much control the coal companies had regained over all of our lives.

At one time, it seemed as though there were more union miners than non-union in central Appalachia. Throughout the mid-1970s and 80s, dozens of large union mining complexes (mines with attached coal preparation facilities and rail service) were operating in the region. These complexes employed thousands of men, and many women.

As I understood it, life was good for those who worked at the complexes. Miners made a union wage, had union benefits including guaranteed days off, voluntary overtime, excellent retirement and healthcare benefits, and worker’s rights that enhanced the safety culture at the mine. The sheer size of the complexes also gave the miner’s many amenities not found at smaller truck mines, including large “clean” and “dirty” locker rooms with heated floors, showering facilities, and even paved parking lots. But they weren’t to last. The seams that supported larger facilities were rapidly depleted as more mechanized forms of mining, such as long wall systems, were being implemented.

And then the coal markets busted.

EcoUnionist News #11

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, December 18, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Story:

Dispatches from Lima COP20:

Other News of Interest:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

A Scourge for Coal Miners Stages a Brutal Comeback

By Ken Ward Jr - Yale Environment 360, November 11, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In August, when former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney visited West Virginia to campaign for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Shelley Moore Capito, the Democrat in the race was quick to remind voters what Romney had said a decade earlier about the coal industry.

“I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant — that plant kills people,” Romney had said in 2003, standing outside a Massachusetts coal-fired power plant that was facing new environmental controls. The Democratic candidate’s campaign jumped on this, criticizing Capito for aligning herself with “someone who believes coal ‘kills people’” — a deeply unpopular sentiment in a state where coal has long been king.

The irony, of course, is that coal does kill people, most notably the workers who toil to mine it, and whose union — the United Mine Workers — would eventually endorse the Democrat in the West Virginia Senate contest.

Politicians and media pundits often conveniently forget that fact when they’re chattering away about the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules on coal-fired power plants or the latest study showing climate change’s impact on sea level rise.

Major mining disasters get a lot attention, especially if they involve heroic rescue efforts, with worried families gathered at a local church and quick-hit stories about long lists of safety violations and inadequate enforcement.

But most coal miners die alone, one at a time, either in roof falls or equipment accidents or — incredibly in this day and age — from black lung, a deadly but preventable disease that most Americans probably think is a thing of the past. Coal-mining disasters get historic markers. Black lung deaths just get headstones.

Just weeks after Romney’s Capito campaign appearance, yet another in a long line of studies showed conclusively that not only is black lung back, but that the worst form of the disease now affects a larger share of Appalachian coal miners than at any time since the early 1970s, shortly after a federal law meant to end the disease was passed.

Study Ties Mountaintop Removal Mining Dust To Increased Risk Of Lung Cancer

By Katie Valentine - Think Progress, October 17, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Mountaintop removal mining destroys forest ecosystems and clogs streams with often toxic mining waste. And according to a new study, it also increases a person’s risk of lung cancer.

The study, published this week in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, looks at the carcinogenic potential of the particulate matter that enters the air during mountaintop removal mining, a form of surface mining that blasts the tops of mountains away so that underground coal reserves can be accessed. The study found “new evidence” that breathing in this particulate matter over an extended period of time can lead to lung cancer, confirming previous research that has found increased cases of lung cancer in communities that live near coal mining operations in Appalachia. That research noted that smoking rates in these communities are likely also contributing to the lung cancer risk, making exposure to mining operations only one of the variables involved, but this week’s research confirms, for the first time, that dust from mining operations can drive up a person’s risk of lung cancer.

“It’s a risk factor, with other risk factors, that increases the risks of getting lung cancer,” study co-author and West Virginia University cancer researcher Yon Rojanasakul told the Charleston Gazette. “That’s what the results show.”

The researchers exposed lung cells to dust from mountaintop removal operations over a three-month period. They found that the dust had “cell-transforming and tumor-promoting effects” — it led to certain changes in the cells that promoted lung cancer development.

“As more than 60,000 cancer cases has been estimated to correlate with MTM [mountaintop removal] activities in West Virginia, this finding on the cancer promoting effect of [particulate matter] and related epidemiological data are crucial to raise public health awareness to reduce cancer risk,” the study’s authors write.

Environmentalists and some Appalachian residents have fought against mountaintop removal, which is considered to be the most destructive way to extract coal, for years. According to anti-mountaintop removal group Appalachian Voices, the practice has destroyed more than 500 mountains so far in central and southern Appalachia. Blowing up the tops of these mountains obliterates temperate forest ecosystems that are among the most biologically diverse in the world.

LAST BREATH: When a coal miner’s lungs finally gave out, his autopsy proved a top doctor was wrong - giving hope to thousands of other miners. The story of Steve Day and his final vindication

By Chris Hamby - Buzzfeed, October 8, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

After working underground in the coal mines of southern West Virginia for almost 35 years, Steve Day thought it was obvious why he gasped for air, slept upright in a recliner, and inhaled oxygen from a tank 24 hours a day.

More than half a dozen doctors who saw the masses in his lungs or the test results showing his severely impaired breathing were also in agreement.

The clear diagnosis was black lung.

Yet, when I met Steve in April 2013, he had lost his case to receive benefits guaranteed by federal law to any coal miner disabled by black lung. The coal company that employed the miner usually pays for these benefits, and, as almost always happens, Steve’s longtime employer had fought vigorously to avoid paying him. As a result, he and his family were barely scraping by, sometimes resorting to loans from relatives or neighbors to make it through the month.

Like many other miners, he had lost primarily because of the opinions of a unit of doctors at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions that had long been the go-to place for coal companies seeking negative X-ray readings to help defeat a benefits claim. The longtime leader of the unit, Dr. Paul Wheeler, testified against Steve, and the judge determined that his opinion trumped all others, as judges have in many other cases.

Today, however, there is final and overwhelming evidence that Wheeler was wrong: Steve’s autopsy.

On July 26, what was left of Steve’s lungs gave out. He was 67 years old. The doctor who performed the autopsy found extensive black lung. With the permission of Steve’s family, I shared his autopsy report with three leading doctors who specialize in black lung and related diseases. Each said essentially the same thing: Steve had one of the most severe cases of black lung they had seen.

“A majority of his lungs had been replaced by scar tissue with coal dust,” said Dr. Francis Green, a professor of medicine at the University of Calgary and one of the world’s top experts on the pathology of black lung.

Dr. David Weissman, who heads a federal agency’s division that certifies doctors — including Wheeler — to read chest X-rays, said it was “very concerning” that a certified reader would fail to recognize a case as severe as Steve’s.

Reached by phone, Wheeler said, “I’d love to talk to you, but the hospital has asked that everything be referred to the legal team.”

A Johns Hopkins spokesperson would not comment on Steve’s case, but noted that the black lung X-ray-reading program headed by Wheeler has been suspended, pending an internal review. The spokesperson refused to provide details about the review, saying only that it “is proceeding as rapidly as possible, and I can assure you that Johns Hopkins takes it very seriously.”

Eight months before he died, Steve filed a new claim for benefits, presenting evidence that the masses in his lungs had grown and his breathing had worsened even further. He underwent an exam by a doctor of the company’s choosing, and even this physician found severe black lung.

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