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Bush should campaign promise to West Virginia coal miners

West Virginia was a big stepping stone for George W. Bush in early November. It could be argued the Mountain State was vital to his ascension to the presidency.

One lawmaker, Rep. Nick Jo Rahall-D-W.Va., reminded the president of this when he wrote a letter asking Bush to direct the Justice Department to stop "any actions aimed at delaying or undermining the new black lung regulations."

The issue of black lung disability benefits was critical in President Bush's successful campaign to capture West Virginia's five electoral college votes and now Rep. Rahall is calling on the president to remember his campaign pledges.

The problem: The Justice Department recently joined forces with the coal industry in an attempt to overturn new rules drafted by the Clinton administration that would make it easier for disabled miners to qualify for black lung benefits.

Fortunately, U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan refused a request for an order to block the rules immediately, and scheduled a hearing on the case today.

The new rules limit medical evidence that can be submitted in black lung claims proceedings to two pieces per side, while the old rules allowed mine operators to submit an unlimited number of medical opinions, thereby stalling miners' claims for several years.

Since an estimated 1,500 miners die each year from the disease, according to Lewis Fitch, president of the Black Lung Association, it's imperative the new rules stay intact and the Justice Department withdraws its support to overturn the regulations.

Just a few lines of Rahall's letter sums up our feelings about this matter concerning Justice's involvement. He said it "flies in the face of an issue you raised during the recent political campaign in West Virginia."

Bush needs to keep his campaign promise on black lung benefits or risk alienating voters in West Virginia. This issue could come back to haunt the "Dubya" if he doesn't rectify the situation.

Today's editorial reflects the opinion of the Exponent editorial board, which is comprised of James G. Logue, Kevin S. Courtney, Patrick M. Martin, Nora Edinger and J. Cecil Jarvis.

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