MSHA has released a new regulation, lowering the  amount of permissible coal dust and forcing the use of  new technology. The industry believes that the rule is  neither justified nor feasible and will kill jobs.

The regulation, released April 23, is intended to prevent  coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), better known as  black lung disease, by reducing exposure to coal dust in  both surface and underground coal miners. The new  rule increases mine operators’ sampling requirements,  mandates use of a new personal dust monitor (PDM)  that provides results instantaneously, expands medical  testing requirements, lowers the overall exposure limit  by 25% and requires immediate corrections of  conditions. It will be phased-in over two years with most  provisions for sampling effective this coming August,  use of the PDM by February 1, 2016, and full  compliance, including to lower exposure limits, by  August 1, 2016.

The regulation includes changes to what was proposed  in October 2010. The most prominent is a reduction in  the exposure limit to 1.5 mg/m3 of air from 2 mg/m3. In  MSHA’s October 2010 proposal, the agency had  proposed a cut to 1 mg/m3. For working miners  suffering from CWP and for air used to ventilate  working places, the limit drops to 0.5 mg/m3 from 1  mg/m3. A single MSHA-collected compliance sample  over the limit will trigger a citation.

Industry officials objected to the proposed rule, saying  a focused approach was needed to improve current  effective protections, rather than an industrywide  mandate that is not technically achievable. The  National Mining Association and others complained  MSHA had ignored “better protection” and “proven  solutions.” These include supplied clean air helmets,  rotating miners as a means of limiting exposure and  imposing a mandate on miners to participate in x-ray  testing programs.

On April 24, MSHA Assistant Secretary Joe Main said the  agency would be reaching out to interested parties in  an informal alliance to help spread word about the rule  and how to comply with it. The agency also pledged to  release an extensive set of compliance materials and to  hold six briefing sessions on the rule throughout the  coalfields in the next two months.

On May 1, Jackson Lewis filed suit against Department  of Labor and MSHA in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the  Eleventh Circuit, challenging the validity of the new coal  dust rules on behalf of the National Mining Association,  the Alabama Coal Association, Walter Energy, and  Warrior Coal Co. The Circuit had overturned a 1998  MSHA dust rule based on the agency’s improper  rulemaking procedure and its failure to demonstrate  feasibility. Murray Energy and a group of other  companies have filed a separate challenge in the Sixth  Circuit Court of Appeals.