DOL Will Support Clinton "Era" Black Lung Rules

May 9, 2001 ( - The Bush administration has taken a position against the coal industry, choosing to defend Black Fund rules that make it easier for coal miners suffering from black-lung disease to collect benefits.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao says the administration has decided to defend the new rules, which took effect the day before President Clinton left office.

The National Mining Association has brought a lawsuit to block the rules, alleging the Labor Department overstepped its bounds in issuing them. The industry also argues the rules will make it too expensive for some mine operators to do business.

“It is the department’s duty to defend the law, regardless of whether they are this administration’s regulations or the previous administration’s regulations,” according to Chao, who expressed concern that the litigation is delaying the larger goal of improving the black lung program.

New Rules

The new rules limit the amount of medical evidence that can be submitted for black-lung claims. The prior rules allowed mine operators to submit an unlimited number of medical opinions, potentially keeping would-be beneficiaries claims tied up in litigation for years.

The Justice Department had asked a judge in February for a suspension of the rules so Chao could consider them. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan denied the request but agreed to block the processing of some new claims pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

Black-lung disease is caused by long-term exposure to coal dust. Unlike other lung diseases, it does not show up on X-rays and generally is diagnosed by its symptoms, according to Reuters. The United Mine Workers of America estimates 1,500 miners die from the disease each year.

Since the early 1970s, liability for payment of benefits to victims and their dependents has been imposed on coal mine operators and their insurance companies under a program administered by the Labor Department.

– Nevin Adams