Just a few hours after the U.S. Department of Labor announced its new coal dust rule, Murray Energy Corp. — which operates three mines in Monongalia and Marion counties — announced its intention to sue the Labor Department.
“Instead of protecting miners’ health, this rule clearly seeks to destroy the coal industry, and the thousands of jobs that it provides, with absolutely no benefit to the health or safety of miners, whatsoever,” Murray said in its release.
The announcement didn’t come as a surprise to those at the rule announcement ceremony, at NIOSH in Morgantown.
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez told reporters, “Responsible business owners that I speak to tell me time and time again that they want commonsense regulation in place, because otherwise it’s a race to the bottom. [The Upper Big Branch mine disaster] is a perfect example. When you cut corners, you have catastrophic consequences. You not only put people’s lives at risk, you put your bottom line at risk.”
Asked by The Dominion Post if he expected industry resistance, he said, “Time will tell. We’re reaching out to all stakeholders. This rule demonstrates that we heard the concerns of the folks in the industry.” They made adjustments based on those concerns and we will continue to work with everyone.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, DW.Va., was more direct. He told the audience, “I’m a little cynical about coal operators. … I have the feeling they could fight in every way possible the realization of these rules and regulations. Because that’s what they do.”
In its release, Murray said independent scientific and technical experts spent four years examining the prospective rule. “These independent experts concluded that the prospective Rule is deeply flawed, does not improve the health of coal miners, is completely infeasible, and is exorbitantly expensive. Most especially, the work shows that there are far better and more effective ways to protect a miner’s health than this political concoction.”
The current administration ignored 437 pages of reports, Murray said. “Safety is, and always has been, the top priority for Murray Energy and its 7,300 employees. Our dedication to health and safety includes the prevention of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (black lung).”
Murray outlined four main problems with the rule. One, it says, the 1.5 mg/m3 (milligram per cubic meter; lowered from 2 mg/m3) dust standard is technologically and economically unachievable. Existing technologies can’t reliably or accurately measure dust concentrations that low.
Two, the rule totally ignores the conclusions of independent health experts, indicating that there are better ways to reduce the dust in the air.
Three, Murray said, this is a national rule addressing a regional problem. Black lung “cases are exceedingly rare in much of the country, including
many areas where Murray Energy operates. Reducing the dust standard from 2.0 mg/m3, to 1.5 mg/m3 will impose billions of dollars in cost with absolutely no health benefit.”
Murray said Australia has a dust standard of 2.5 mg/m3, 66 percent higher than the announced rule imposes, and has had no reported black lung cases in the past 20 years.
And four, the rule mandates the use of continuous personal dust monitors (CPDMS), “which are unproven, unreliable, subject to tampering, and fail to protect miners. Indeed, CPDMs drastically increase the incidence of musculoskeletal disorders among miners.”
Murray has advocated such things as administrative controls and requiring the use of personal protective equipment, such as Airstream helmets, “which would reduce or completely eliminate miner exposure to dust.”
The government’s failure to require personal equipment clearly demonstrates that they did not take into account the best available technology to protect our coal miners.
Gary M. Broadbent, assistant general counsel and media director for Murray, said, “We will litigate this matter and get this rule vacated.”