PARKERSBURG - West Virginia's two U.S. senators are critical of a funding bill reported by the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday that restricts funding for programs aimed at reducing the incidents of black lung.
The committee released the initial draft of the fiscal 2013 Labor, Health and Human Services funding bill with House Republicans inserting language to prevent funding from being spent to implement rules and programs to reduce miners' exposure to coal dust by the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
It's outrageous, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said.
"New regulations to fight black lung are essential especially when we know that black lung rates are rising in a new generation of miners," he said. "Last year, the House demanded a temporary delay of these protections for miners and now they want to block them altogether."
Ditto from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
"When it comes to black lung, we must do everything in our power to keep our miners healthy," Manchin said. "I know we can work together to do better, and I am determined to make sure that we have strong standards that keep our miners healthy. We should never go backward when it comes to the health and safety of our miners."
The committee is chaired by Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky. The initial draft of the bill was announced on Tuesday and next will be discussed in subcommittees where on Wednesday a motion to remove the language by Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Wash., was defeated on a party-line vote.
"The provision in the House Labor Appropriations Bill that would halt progress on addressing black lung is reckless; it provides the disease another yearlong grace period to continue attacking miners and taking their lives in growing numbers," Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said. "I am disappointed that the language was ever included in the bill and that the effort to remove the ill-conceived language was defeated during Subcommittee action today."
Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, called the language a "potential death sentence."
"The language proposed by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives that will eliminate funding for future efforts to reduce miners' exposure to coal dust, including the development of critical new technology that will provide real-time monitoring of dust exposure, amounts to nothing more than a potential death sentence for thousands of American miners," Roberts said in a statement on Wednesday. "It's difficult to understand the motivation behind this effort. Recent studies by the federal government under Democratic and Republican administrations have clearly demonstrated that black lung is on the rise, which can only happen when there is too much respirable coal dust in mine atmospheres. We know that the only way to end this disease is to reduce miners' exposure to that dust."
The legislation, among other provisions, again attempts to defund The Affordable Care Act, encourages the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to rely on private funding rather than federal sources and prevents funding to Planned Parenthood.
The draft includes $150 billion in discretionary funding, a cut of $6.3 billion below last year's level and $8.8 billion below the president's budget request. The committee reported in addition to spending cuts to ineffective, unnecessary or lower-priority programs, the legislation contains provisions to reduce harmful and unnecessary regulations that undermine job creation and ensures "the protection and respect of human life and limit bureaucratic overreach."
"This legislation reflects our strong commitment to reduce over-regulation and unnecessary, ineffective spending that feeds the nation's deficits and hampers economic growth. A careful look was given to all programs and agencies in the bill, with the budget knife aimed at excess spending and underperforming programs, but also with the goal of making wise investments in programs that help the American people the most," Rogers said.