Skip Navigation

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey reintroduces black lung legislation in support of coal miners

  • Sarah Boden/WESA
Jerry Coleman, a former coal miner in West Virginia, has black lung disease.

 Roxy Todd / West Virginia Public Radio

Jerry Coleman, a former coal miner in West Virginia, has black lung disease.

Two pieces of legislation reintroduced to the U.S. Senate would make it easier for coal miners with black lung disease and their survivors to receive benefits.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., is the sponsor of the Black Lung Benefits Improvements Act, and a co-sponsor of Relief for Survivors of Miners Act. According to 2022 data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, nearly 4,500 Pennsylvanians work in coal mining. In Western Pennsylvania, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection says that Clearfield, Somerset and Indiana counties have the largest number of mines.

During a Wednesday briefing, Casey said some miners wait years after retirement to receive benefits for a black lung diagnosis; he called on his Republican colleagues to support both bills.

“What I don’t want to hear from members of the House or the Senate is that they really support coal miners, but they won’t support coal miners when they develop black lung,” said Casey.

companion bill for the Black Lung Benefits Improvements Act has been introduced in the House. U.S. Rep. Morgan McGarvey, D-Ky., said he plans to sponsor the relief of survivors legislation.

Coal miners develop black lung disease by inhaling the dust they’re exposed to while mining. The particles remain in the lungs causing inflammation and scarring, making it increasingly difficult to breathe.

Coal companies are required to compensate miners with black lung, as well as their survivors. But getting benefits is a lengthy and adversarial process according advocacy organizations, including the National Black Lung Association, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and Appalachian Voices.

The legislation would improve miners’ and survivors’ access to legal representation, and would allow cases that were denied due to erroneous medical interpretations to be reopened. It would also provide automatic cost-of-living adjustments to benefit payments, which Courtney Rhoades Mullins at the Kentucky-based Appalachian Citizens’ Law said is needed as the current compensation levels are insufficient.

“A family of two must decide how to budget a meager $13,272 without considering retirement or other such funds,” said Mullins.

The National Mining Association, the national trade organization which represents the mining industry, did not respond to a request for comment.

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Up Next
Regional & State News

Public gets more insight into Penn State’s inner workings following new law, internal report