CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Three weeks ago, federal mine safety chief Richard Stickler said his agency was too busy with other things to write a tougher coal dust standard that would help protect miners from deadly black lung disease.

“There’s no way I’m going to get that done with what I have on my plate,” Stickler said during an Aug. 27 interview.

A week later, Stickler’s U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration published a proposed rule that would subject the nation’s miners to random drug testing.

Now, mine safety advocates are furious. They can’t understand why MSHA is pushing the drug-testing rule and ignoring what they say is a much larger problem for coal miners.

“It’s frustrating that MSHA had time to draft a regulation for drug testing when there are much bigger health and safety problems facing the nation’s miners,” said Nathan Fetty, a mine safety lawyer with the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment. “For example, MSHA could have spent its time writing regulations to control respirable dust and finally eliminate black lung disease,” Fetty said last week. “After all, we know that hundreds of former miners die every year from black lung. But those big problems just don’t register with MSHA these days.”


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