Press Releases

Sep 05 2013

PROMISES MADE, PROMISES KEPT: ROCKEFELLER CONTINUES TO PUSH FOR BLACK LUNG PROTECTIONS

Senator brought stakeholders, experts and sufferers from Black Lung Disease together to find path forward in confronting debilitating disease

BLUEFIELD, W.VA. – Amid a series of steps taken to protect West Virginia coal miners, Senator Jay Rockefeller today sought input from a broad coalition of stakeholders, experts, advocates, and miners and their families who are all seeking the same goal: end Black Lung disease.

“We have to rid ourselves of the notion that coal miners, who work long hours doing back-breaking jobs to support their families, are destined to get sick,” Rockefeller said. “No one has to get Black Lung Disease. It is not inevitable. And it is well past time we relegate this terrible disease to the archives of history.”

Rockefeller this year has acted on several fronts to combat Black Lung disease. In July, he introduced new legislation, the Black Lung Health Improvements Act of 2013, seeking more protections for coal miners. He followed with a letter to President Obama, urging his Administration to move more quickly in issuing long delayed new rules on respirable coal dust. Just days later, the Administration advanced the rule ahead of its final issuance.

And today, he sought new ideas from stakeholders on how to further protect coal miners from the disease and assist those already suffering.

“We thought, at one time, we had Black Lung on its heels,” Rockefeller said. “We were wrong. The question before us today is simple: what are we going to do about it? What are we going to do to prevent the disease and what are we going to do to help those who are already suffering? That’s why I’ve asked this group of people to join me today. I need their help, their input and their ideas.”

“Senator Rockefeller has worked diligently for the well being of all West Virginians and other working and disabled people,” said Dr. Donald Rasmussen, a Beckley doctor who has done pioneering work in treating and diagnosing Black Lung disease. “He has especially aided retired miners and their families and has been a very strong advocate for the health and safety of coal miners. He continues to push for more stringent dust control in mines and has been an advocate for just compensations for those disabled from dust diseases.”

Rockefeller’s efforts on Black Lung are third in a series of bills he has introduced this year on behalf of West Virginia’s coal miners. In March, Rockefeller introduced the Coal Accountability and Retired Employee (CARE) Act, that would protect the promised lifetime pension and healthcare benefits for thousands of retired miners whose livelihoods are in jeopardy. In April, Rockefeller re-introduced an updated version of his comprehensive mine safety legislation, the Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act, aimed at fixing the glaring safety problems revealed in the wake of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

Background:

Read Rockefeller’s legislation here.

Read Rockefeller’s letter to President Obama here.

For a timeline of Rockefeller’s efforts to fight Black Lung disease, click here.

For resources on Black Lung disease and the claims process, click here.

Among those attending Rockefeller’s roundtable discussion included:

• Mrs. Terry Fike, whose husband, Chester, died from complications of Black Lung disease;

• Ms. Anita Wolfe, a public health analyst and program coordinator for the Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), whose father died from complications of Black Lung disease;

• Dr. Scott Laney, an epidemiologist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Morgantown;

• Dr. Donald Rasmussen, a Beckley doctor who has done pioneering work in treating and diagnosing Black Lung disease;

• Mr. Vernon Bailey, a West Virginia coal miner who has a Black Lung benefits case currently in review;

• Mrs. Ruth Bishop, who is currently navigating the Black Lung benefit process after her husband, Ollie, died in April;

• Dr. Dan Doyle, director of the New River Health Center, a Black Lung clinic in southern West Virginia;

• Mr. Rick Hanna, District Director of the Department of Labor, based out of Charleston and Parkersburg;

• Mr. Sam Petsonk, an attorney with Mountain State Justice who works on Black Lung cases; and

• Mr. Joe Massie, a coal miner who serves as president of the National Black Lung Association.

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