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The Black Lung Disability Fund pays benefits to coal miners with black lung disease, but the excise tax meant to support the fund was cut in half at the start of 2022.
In a news conference Thursday, leadership of the National Black Lung Association defended the recently introduced Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which could permanently restore the excise tax.
The bill was introduced after U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reached a deal after months of negotiations.
“I just really want to thank Manchin for what he’s doing,” said Gary Hairston, president of the National Black Lung Association. “I know we gave him a hard way to go, but thank him for everything he’s doing right now.”
A joint statement by coal industry groups, including the West Virginia Coal Association, said the bill would cost mining companies millions of dollars in taxes.
“The coal companies don’t care. It’s up to us to fight for our benefits that was promised to us,” coal-miner, and president of the Kanawha County Black Lung Association, Jerry Coleman said. “We shouldn’t have to fight: we need a permanent extension.”
Black lung advocates were also asked if black lung claims could be addressed through settlements.
John Cline is an attorney who has been representing miners with black lung and their surviving spouses for 30 years. He said a fixed amount of money from a settlement would be unfeasible.
“The medical costs, the treatment of black lung are unpredictable and the miner would not be in a position to figure out what his needs would be in the future,” Cline said. “The correct way to reduce costs is to reduce exposure, particularly to silica dust.”
The Mine Safety and Health Administration is developing a silica dust rule.
Bob Cohen, director of Black Lung Center of Excellence at the University of Illinois, Chicago campus, explained that the medical costs for black lung don’t end when a patient is no longer working in the mines.
“I think the medical costs really outweigh, hugely, the cash benefits that miners get,” Cohen said. “People have required lung transplantation, which is an incredibly expensive procedure and other procedures that are unpredictable. The process of scarring of lungs continues 5, 10, or 15 years after you come out of the mines.”
Coleman said that the Black Lung Disability Fund is going further into debt and losing around $10.9 million each week.
The restoration of the excise tax will help the fund but not fix it completely.