Bruce Hendrickson, the Democrat Nominee for Secretary of State, is voicing his support for Kentucky's coal miners. Hendrickson is right about bringing the Black Lung issue to the front burner. Although a majority of people in Kentucky's coal regions are excited about the prospect of new jobs and industry that will hopefully stem from the energy bill that was passed by the Kentucky General Assembly, we can not forget the plight of our coal miners--Black Lung.
Black Lung in the legal sense is a term describing a man-made, occupational lung diseases that are contracted by prolonged breathing of coal mine dust. Black lung usually effects miners over the age of 50. There is no treatment or cure for Black Lung, only the complications of the condition can be treated.
Since the passage of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, average dust levels have fallen from 8.0mg. per cubic meter to the current standard of 2.0 mg. per cubic meter. The Federal law also set up a black lung disability benefits program to compensate coal miners who have been disabled by on-the-job dust exposure.
Today, Kentucky coal miners who suffer from black lung have almost no chance of receiving compensation under the present laws. Why do you ask? Former Governor Paul Patton successfully sought to change the workers compensation laws in Kentucky so that the State could be more business friendly. In making these changes, Kentucky went to far by establishing standards that virtually make it impossible for those suffering black lung disease to receive any compensation.
State Rep. Brent Yonts who represents Muhlenberg County and parts of Hopkins and Christian explained to me this afternoon that Governor Patton and the legislature realized too late, that they had gone to far in changing the workers compensation laws. Yonts said, that the House of Representatives has tried to rectify this situation many times but to no avail. The House has passed revision legislation on numerous occasions to change the law but only to see their bill die in the State Senate.
The determination for black lung has to be made independently by three doctors who are supposed to be trained as "B" readers of black lung x-rays. Yonts said that the doctors responsible for reading the x-rays are very conservative in their determinations. Yonts commented,"state awards are rare, the law prevents coal miners from being helped". Yonts, who has tried to help revise the present laws in past sessions said that until the State Senate is willing to do their part, then there is no use in continuing to pass revision legislation in the House.
The tax to help fund compensation for miners with black lung is still being collected TODAY! "There is over 20 million dollars in the fund" said Yonts. While we all want new jobs and economic growth across Kentucky we must balance that by laws that protect our miners and our environment. An estimated 1500 former coal miners die each year from black lung in the United States. Kentucky has over 20 million dollars in a fund which grows every day, which was intended to help our coal miners, but yet our laws are standing in the way of that happening.
While a new generation of Democrats want to talk about "Green" we also need to be talking about "Black"--Black Lung. Bruce Hendrickson is to be commended for bringing this issue up again and He is right when He said, "employed in a underground mine should not mean a death warrant". Republicans in the State Senate want to talk about morals and family values. Then how in the world do you defend killing legislation which is trying to revise laws that are killing our coal miners and their families?
(Sources: State Rep. Brent Yonts, Gale Encyclopedia,UMWA)