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A better plan for controlling coal dust

The U.S. government's plan to assume more responsibility for conditions in underground coal mines has our full support.

The feds' proposal calls for overhauling the system of sampling, detecting and controlling dust in mines in an attempt to reduce cases of black-lung disease.

The responsibility currently lies with the mine operators themselves. They submit dust-level samples to the Labor Department's Mine Safety Health Administration, which, in turn, determines whether miners are being exposed to levels that can cause black lung and other diseases.

Under the new plan, the government would be responsible for taking the samples.

It's a plan, that, from all indications, would be welcomed by the mining industry.

Why?

Because, as noted by Vice President of Safety and Health for the National Mining Association Bruce Watzman, "It's really a no-win proposition for the operators today." Whenever the test findings meet government regulations, he said, mining companies are expected of cheating.

But more important, the plan would mean an increased level of safety for miners. That's because it also includes having the Mine Safety Health Administration verify the effectiveness of mine operators' dust-control measures; no verification is currently required. Dust samples would also be taken more frequently and in a larger number of mining areas.

A public comment period on the proposal will last until Aug. 24, after which the rules will be finalized. Seeing that the government estimates 1,400 current and former miners die each year from black-lung disease, we can't afford to wait much longer.

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

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