Coal pileReading and listening to the recent NPR, Center for Public Integrity, and Charleston Gazette articles about the rise in black lung cases for coal miners saddens and angers me. Like many, I had — mistakenly, it turns out — assumed that black lung was declining, thanks to the efforts of leaders like West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

On top of that, it turns out that in recent days, Republicans in Congress (with the backing of the coal industry), have been successfully blocking mine safety measures that would help address this problem.

Ken Ward, Jr., of the Charleston Gazette has been writing about this issue for years, and recently catalogued the industry’s repeated efforts to fight safety standards that would control the mining dust that causes black lung. And now in recent days, Republicans in the House of Representatives have “inserted language in a budget bill…that would kill a proposed rule to protect coal miners from dust that causes black lung.”

It’s all politics again. As the Center for Public Integrity reported, and as so many of us already know, those who want to block health protections for the miners also receive some of the biggest campaign donations from coal companies:

Both Denny Rehberg, the Montana Republican who wrote the bill, and Hal Rogers, chairman of the appropriations committee…and both count the coal mining industry among their top donors. Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, has long been a champion of the industry, and mining companies have donated more to his campaigns over the years — about $378,000 — than any other industry.

House Republicans and the coal industry are putting profits and politics above public health, specifically above the health of those workers they are so quick to defend in pro-coal commercials and at public hearings.

What is especially disheartening is that, in recent decades, the U.S. had made progress in reducing black lung, thanks to stronger standards and stricter enforcement. But this new investigation revealed that we have been backsliding, and this devastating disease has not been banished to the past — it’s on the rise.

The entire Congress should be joining together to strengthen and enforce protections for black lung, period. The last thing Congress should do is continue allowing industry to bend the rules, block common-sense measures, and inflict this devastating disease on workers, just to add a few more dollars to their bottom line.