16 Tons And What Do You Get?

WV Politicians love to tug on the heartstrings of coal. The coal industry brought money and jobs to West Virginia for decades, and it’s easy to think if someone cares about the coal industry they care about the hard working men and women of West Virginia that make that industry possible, but often as automation and lose tax policies help the coal industry, very little is done to those West Virginians who built their life working in the mines.

As Congress grapples with a government shutdown, another deadline quietly passed in the night. At a time when Black Lung cases are rising day by day, and republican leaders are promising to bring back coal, funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund expired. The funding for this program comes from a tax on mined coal, so this is another example of Republican politicians putting the companies profits over the health and freedom of those who’ve made a living working in those same companies mines.

From WV Public News Service

CHARLESTON, W. Va. — Inaction by a stalemated Congress has gutted important black-lung funding, at a time when the number of cases in West Virginia is rising rapidly.

In spite of promises by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others, a temporary increase in the per-ton tax on coal is set to expire, cutting that tax by more than half. That leaves the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund that Gary Hairston relies on in debt and underfunded.

Hairston has disabling black lung disease, but the mine company he last worked for went bankrupt, ending its legal responsibility. He said politicians talk about supporting miners — until they have to pay for it.

"It almost makes you feel like a soldier sometimes,” Hairston said. “After you go over and fight, then you come back and they say how much they love you, but then everything that you need to get, you have to fight to get."

About 25,000 sick miners and their dependents receive benefits from the fund, averaging less than $600 a month. The industry has said the higher tax is hard for already struggling mine companies. And this summer an officer of the National Mining Association told Reuters the fund has been strained by "previous or current smokers."

But doctors countered it's easy to tell black lung from the effects of smoking. Occupational medicine doctor Carl Werntz said the real issue in Appalachian mines is thinner coal seams, which put more damaging silica in the dust the miners breathe.

Read the whole story from WV Public New Service Here.