Black Lung Disease And The Republican Party
Yesterday, Blue America endorsed Sue Thorn, a populist Democrat from West Virginia, who's running for Congress in the first district (the northern third of the state). We didn't really get a chance to talk much about black lung disease, something most of us don't come into contact with. But most of "us" don't live in West Virginia or in other coal mining regions. Black lung disease is something Sue talks a lot about while she's meeting voters. It helps define what it means, from her perspective, to support her state's crucial coal industry. She's been harshly critical of a GOP budget move that would prevent the Labor Department from working to end black lung disease.
Republican lawmakers in the House Appropriations Committee have added language to the Department of Labor budget bill for 2013 that would prevent the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) from implementing or enforcing a proposal meant to combat black lung disease by reducing miner’s exposure to coal dust.
Black lung disease is caused by exposure to coal dust and results in a slow, painful death for those who suffer from it. West Virginians recently learned that black lung disease, an agonizing and irreversible condition that kills thousands of coal miners, is on the rise. In the last decade, black lung disease has doubled, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity and NPR News. Sue Thorn criticized the bill and called for the removal of the provision:
“As proud Mountaineers who love our state and revere our miners, we can’t remain silent on this issue. Our miners put their lives on the line to provide for their families and put food on the table every day. They deserve better.
“It’s become evident that Congress can’t be trusted to protect our miners. Two-faced lawmakers, bought and paid for by the coal industry, inserted dangerous language into the labor appropriations bill that would stop efforts to end this debilitating, deadly disease.
“Coal and utility companies have consistently provided jobs for West Virginians who need to provide for their families, but we must always remember that a business exists first and foremost to make a profit. Coal industry lobbyists will fight tooth and nail against mine safety and health legislation because it might affect their bottom line.
“It’s time to get big money out of politics. It’s no coincidence that the same shameless Republican lawmakers that oppose improved MSHA regulation receive massive checks at election time from coal industry CEOs and PACs. As House Republicans scheme to pass despicable legislation that would keep MSHA from doing its job, miners are suffering and dying.
"I won’t sell my soul to any money-hungry industry. I’m running for Congress with small donations from everyday people because that’s who I represent. I won’t take money from corporations that expect me to spread fearmongering propaganda for campaign cash. I won’t use outrageous scare tactics to make West Virginians think federal regulation will strip them of their paychecks. I’ll vote in the best interests of West Virginia. People’s lives will always take precedence over profits.”
A week ago Sue sent a letter to the editor of the Post-Gazette slapping McKinley's crackpot criticism of United Steel Workers Union president Leo Gerard. Sleazy multimillionaire McKinley claimed Gerard didn't understand working people and that he's disrespectful of coal miners. McKinley was feeling especially feisty since he had just joined all his right-wing colleagues in McKinley voting against new coal dust regulation to prevent coal miner deaths.
"In the last 40 years, black lung disease killed or helped kill 70,000 coal miners. This torturous, deadly disease is caused by exposure to coal dust in the mines. In the last decade, black lung disease has doubled among coal miners, and cases are now being found in younger miners. Yet McKinley just voted against enacting a new federal rule that would combat the problem and save lives.
"McKinley also failed to support the Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety legislation when it was introduced in the US House of Representatives in April 2011, and has failed to speak out in support of the legislation since it was re-introduced last week by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).
"McKinley's criticisms of Gerard ring hollow coming from someone who consistently puts coal company profits before coal miners and their safety. Maybe McKinley's comments are more reflective of the fact that his campaign started receiving funding from Massey Energy's Don Blankenship in 2010, shortly after the Upper Big Branch mine disaster and Blankenship's contributions exceeded Federal Election Committee rules. While McKinley's biggest funders are coal companies and he may be a friend of theirs, he's certainly no friend of coal miners."
It's essential to all of us that we elect men and women like Sue Thorn to Congress. What the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats have in store for ordinary working people-- the 99%-- is very much like black lung disease-- a slow painful death. There's no such thing as a contribution too small, so, if you can, please consider helping Sue's grassroos campaign here at our ActBlue page