In a lengthy ruling issued Friday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the Department of Labor''s (DOL) recently promulgated regulations intended to streamline the processing of claims by miners suffering from black lung disease.
"We are very pleased the court upheld the revised regulations, whether they originated in this administration or previous administrations," said Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. "This ruling moves us in the direction of our goal of improving the lives of miners suffering from this horrific disease."
New rules governing the administration of the black lung program went into effect on Jan. 19, 2001.
The National Mining Association challenged the regulations in U.S. District Court.
NMA says DOL went too far in issuing the rules. Bob Jackson, NMA vice president of human resources, said the industry filed the suit because it believes the rules are bad public policy.
"We don''t feel that the department has the authority to apply this regulation retroactively," said Jackson.
NMA also maintained that DOL rejected extensive medical and scientific evidence submitted by medical experts which reveal that incidents of black lung disease have been declining.
The industry group contends the regulations would have a "profound and potential devastating" economic effect on mine operators both large and small.
The United Mineworkers of America (UMWA) intervened in the lawsuit to defend the regulations along with DOL.
"We are extremely gratified by the judge''s decision to uphold the critical new rules governing the process by which black lung victims can claim their federal disability benefits," said UMWA International President Cecil Roberts. "Under this decision, miners can now take advantage of the new rules without worrying that operators will be able to challenge the fundamental legality of the various regulations in individual claim''s cases."
Black lung is a commonly used term for pneumoconiosis, a lung disease resulting from excessive exposure to respirable coal mine dust. In severe cases, black lung can be disabling and fatal.
DOL''s portion of the Federal Black Lung Program provides more than $439 million annually in monetary and medical benefits to former coal mine workers who are determined to be totally disabled by the crippling respiratory condition. Prompt claims decisions, timely benefit payments and a high level of program service are the program''s basic goals, according to DOL.
by Virginia Foran