UPDATED 10:03 AM PT — Wednesday, March 20, 2019
With a rise in black lung cases, Congress is under pressure to restore full funding to a program supporting coal miners. Roughly 25,000 retired miners depend on the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund that was established in 1978, with that number increasing in recent years.
Doctors working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are also seeing younger miners diagnosed with the disease, especially in big coal country states like Kentucky.
“We’re looking at men in their 30s and their 40s on oxygen, being evaluated for lung transplant, which was unheard of even when I was worked in the mines or my father worked in the mines,” stated Dr. Brandon Crumm. “We never saw or heard of anything like that and we were around it every single day.”
Black lung restricts lung function due to scaring left behind from years of inhaling coal and silica dust. It affects about one-in-five workers who spent an average of 25 years in the Central Appalachian mines.
Virginia native and ex-miner John Robinson is one of those five people. His monthly bills total around $4,000 for critical machinery just to help him breathe.
“I use oxygen, three-percent of oxygen, and a CPAP every night and then during the day,” he explained. “If I get out here and get myself messed up, get short of wind, I have to come in the house and use my oxygen.”
A federal watchdog decried cutting taxes on coal companies over concerns it would hurt the miners disability fund.
Back in January, the warned the trust is at risk of depletion by 2020 if Congress failed to extend or increase taxes on coal production. However, the industry disagrees and has argued the program’s financial struggles are a result of government mismanagement and fraud.
The Disability Fund provides monthly payments and treatments to black lung sufferers, and is largely financed by taxes on coal production.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are said to be in talks to enact legislation to restore the coal tax over the next decade. However, Washington’s treatment of the nation’s miners leaves Robinson with harsh words of criticism.
“They’re pretty important, coal miners are, but they just ain’t being done right,” he stated. “They’re being robbed, they really are being robbed.”