Cartwright, Casey, Scott, Manchin Introduce Bill to Protect Miners, Strengthen Safety Standards
Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Matt Cartwright (PA-17) and Ranking Member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce Bobby Scott (VA-03) introduced the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2017. Senator Casey (D-PA) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced companion legislation in the Senate. These bills would reform the federal program that provides benefits to coal miners suffering from black lung disease.
“Black lung is a debilitating, often fatal disease. Thousands of coal miners develop black lung, yet coal companies exploit federal loopholes to avoid compensating them,” said Rep. Cartwright. “We must reform the claims process to ensure these hard-working miners and their families receive the benefits they deserve. This bill would help miners obtain unbiased medical evidence, ample legal representation, and up-to-date benefit payments adjusted to cost-of-living increases.”
The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act would reform the federal program that provides benefits to coal miners suffering from black lung disease. Federal law requires that coal companies compensate disabled miners who contract black lung, which is caused by inhaling coal dust over an extended period of time, but coal companies routinely deploy an array of unfair tactics to avoid paying miners the benefits they deserve. The bill would allow miners, or their survivors, to reopen their cases if they had been denied because of unscrupulous medical interpretations that have since been discredited.
“The reforms proposed in the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act are long overdue,” said Rep. Scott. “The black lung reforms would ensure that miners have equal access to medical evidence and better access to legal resources. The Byrd improvements would strengthen MSHA’s authority and deliver stronger criminal penalties needed to deter operators who knowingly operate outside the margins of safety and recklessly expose miners to serious risk of injury or death.”
“Coal miners and their families deserve action on safety and benefits, not more talk,” said Senator Casey. “We owe them honest health and safety protections. It’s time we enforce meaningful, commonsense protections that every worker deserves.”
The Members introduced the legislation on the seventh anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster in West Virginia – a completely preventable coal dust explosion that took the lives of 29 miners and remains the worst coal mine disaster in this country in 40 years. This was a direct result of corporate management consistently putting profits and coal production ahead of the safety of the miners who worked there.
Coal miners face a number of challenges when pursuing federal black lung claims, including finding legal representation and developing sound medical evidence to support their claims. The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 ensures that miners have equal access to medical evidence and better access to legal resources.