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US miners’ union head calls House Republican effort to block silica dust rule an ‘attack’ on workers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The head of the national mine workers’ union on Friday condemned what he characterized as an effort by House Republicans to block enforcement of a long-awaited federal rule directed at curbing workers’ exposure to poisonous, deadly rock dust, calling it “a direct attack on the health and safety of coal miners.”

United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil E. Roberts said a budget provision — approved by a U.S. House subcommittee Thursday — prohibiting the Department of Labor from using funding to enforce a silica dust rule operators must be in compliance with next year is “morally reprehensible” and that the action “undermines the principles of fairness and justice that our country stands for.”

“It is difficult for me to understand how certain members of Congress could possibly be supportive of more miners dying a suffocating death as a result of being forced to breathe this dust,” Roberts said in a statement.

Silicosis, commonly referred to as black lung, is an occupational pneumoconiosis caused by the inhalation of crystalline silica dust present in minerals like sandstone. Finalized in April by Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA, rule cuts by half the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica for an eight-hour shift.

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