Coal miners from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Virginia, some sick with black lung disease, went to Capitol Hill this week to lobby Congress to fund the Black Lung Trust Fund, only to leave the meeting disappointed.
Black lung disease is an epidemic killing thousands of coal miners. In mines across the Appalachian states, miners were exposed to toxic mine dust that would later lead to the debilitating respiratory illness, also known as progressive massive fibrosis.
A group of coal miners met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday, to try to have restored a higher excise tax on coal companies to fund medical care.
The excise tax originated in 1977 with the Black Lung Revenue Act. The tax is the main source of revenue for the Black Lung Program and Black Lung Disability Trust Fund (BLDTF), which pay benefits to disabled miners and their survivors and dependents.
The coal industry has lobbied to have the tax reduced, while the BLDTF is at risk of insolvency.
Some of the miners rode by bus for ten hours to speak with McConnell, but the Republican leader only saw them for two minutes, and while he did tell them their medical benefits are safe, he did not comment on the excise tax and left without answering questions or providing details, Reuters reported.
“[The] focus is on placating politically connected, wealthy coal industry executives, not helping miners, their families, or the communities left out to dry,” a Sierra Club representative said in an email to MINING.com.
Last year, a joint National Public Radio (NPR) and PBS Frontline investigation found that regulators knew about black lung disease, which plagued coal miners for generations, and could have stopped it.