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Senate passes bill to keep funding stable for safety agencies; amendment to protect MSHA coal dust rule fails

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Photo: Senate Appropriations Committee

Washington — The Senate made no changes to its proposed budgets for safety agencies in an appropriations minibus passed Aug. 23. Meanwhile, an amendment to protect the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s coal dust rule failed, but another intended to increase participation in black lung screening programs was added.

Senators have allocated $556.8 million in discretionary funds for OSHA in fiscal year 2019 – a $4 million increase from FY 2018 – with about $10.5 million going to the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program and at least $3.5 million to the Voluntary Protection Programs. The House budgeted $545.3 million for the agency in its appropriations bill, which it has not yet passed, and once again complied with the Trump administration’s request to eliminate the Harwood Grants.

The administration’s previous attempts to cut the Harwood program have failed, and OSHA announced Aug. 3 that $10.5 million in grant money was available.

The ultimate fate of the grants for FY 2019 and any funding differences with the House might have to get resolved in a conference committee, but, with the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, the two legislative bodies are up against a deadline.

MSHA is slated to receive $373.8 million, unchanged from FY 2018, with up to $2 million going to mine rescue and recovery and at least $10.5 million to state assistance grants. The bill includes a provision that some of that grant money “may be used for the purchase and maintenance of new equipment” as required by the coal dust rule for mine operators who “demonstrate financial need.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) proposed an amendment that would prevent the agency from repealing or rolling back the coal dust rule, which lowered the exposure limit at underground and surface mines to 1.5 milligrams per cubic meter of air from 2.0 milligrams. Other changes include sampling requirements with continuous personal dust monitors.

The Department of Labor is seeking a retrospective study of the coal dust rule, according to its semiannual regulatory agenda released Dec. 14, listing the study as a deregulatory action. At a hearing before the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee on Feb. 6, MSHA administrator David Zatezalo said the study was required by the final rule, issued in 2014, and he did not know why it was listed as a deregulatory item.

NIOSH would receive $335.3 million, a slight increase from FY 2018, and would remain under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The administration proposed moving the agency to the National Institutes of Health. The House bill allocates $339.2 million for NIOSH.

An amendment from Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and four of his colleagues calls for NIOSH to provide an update on miners currently covered by the Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program. The legislators also want the agency to report on potential barriers to participation and existing and planned ways to boost involvement in the program.

In May, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago presented findings showing that more than 4,600 coal miners have developed progressive massive fibrosis – the most severe form of black lung disease – since 1970. Nearly half of the cases have been discovered since 2000.

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