Court upholds coal dust rule for miners

A federal appeals court upheld the government’s new coal dust exposure rule for coal miners Monday, rejecting industry challenges to it.

The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit said the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) followed the relevant laws in writing the 2014 rule to limit coal dust exposure, which causes black lung disease.

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“We conclude that MSHA’s decades-long effort, culminating in the publication of this rule, adequately took into account the scientific evidence of record and arrived at conclusions which, given MSHA’s expertise, are worthy of deference,” a three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based court wrote.

“We therefore deny the petitions for review.”

In a pair of lawsuits, various coal industry representatives said that the regulation did not properly take into account the scientific body of evidence, which the industry said shows it would not result in nearly the health benefits the government claims.

Mining companies also said the MSHA did not properly consult with the Department of Health and Human Services in writing the rule, which the court rejected as well.

Murray Energy Corp., which labeled the rule as part of the Obama administration’s multi-pronged “War on Coal,” said it will continue to fight the regulation.

“Murray Energy Corp. is totally committed to the best possible health and safety of our miners, but [MSHA’s] disastrous respirable dust rule does not improve their health or safety, is clearly illegal, is technologically infeasible, and will destroy thousands of coal mining jobs with absolutely no health or safety benefit whatsoever,” spokesman Gary Broadbent said.

The company believes the ruling is “disastrous,” and will appeal the decision to the full court for its review.

The first phase of the rule, restricting allowable coal dust exposure levels, took effect in August 2015. The MSHA said 99 percent of mines had complied as of August 2015. 

On Feb. 1, another phase will take effect, mandating that miners wear dust monitors. The final phase, with another stepdown in the dust exposure level, is due to take effect Aug. 1.