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Democratic lawmakers introduce bills on black lung disease, miner safety

Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills in Congress to improve mine safety and benefits for coal miners suffering from black lung disease.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., introduced the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 and the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2017 to the Senate while Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., introduced the bills to the House of Representatives on April 5, according to a release.

The safety bill would "close glaring loopholes in our nation's mine safety laws" and "would make it more difficult for corporate management to put profits and production ahead of the safety of miners," the release said, by giving the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration better tools to investigate mines and hold operators accountable.

"On this sad anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, we are reminded that no family or community should ever endure a preventable tragedy like the one at Upper Big Branch again," Manchin said. "The health and safety of our miners will always be my top priority. It is critical that we continue to improve our safety standards so that our miners' lives are never in jeopardy and that is why I'm re-introducing the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act. This important legislation will ensure we keep our promises to America's brave miners by helping to close backlogs in benefits claims, hold safety violators accountable for negligence, and reform a broken liability system."

The black lung bill would allow miners or their survivors to reopen cases where they had been denied benefits after contracting black lung due to "unscrupulous medical interpretations that have since been discredited" used by coal companies, who "routinely deploy an array of unfair tactics to avoid paying miners the benefits they deserve," the release stated.

Cartwright said thousands of coal miners develop black lung, but coal companies exploit federal loopholes to avoid compensating them. "We must reform the claims process to ensure these hard-working miners and their families receive the benefits they deserve. This bill would help miners obtain unbiased medical evidence, ample legal representation, and up-to-date benefit payments adjusted to cost-of-living increases."