MORGANTOWN — Sen. Jay Rockefeller — joined by coal miners and leaders of the U.S. Department of Labor and the Mine Safety and Health Administration — declared war on black lung disease Wednesday, April 23.

They gathered at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) facility in Morgantown to announce the release of a new MSHA rule to lower miners’ exposure to breathable coal mine dust.

“It is preventable,” Rockefeller told the crowd of miners, their families and NIOSH workers.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Joe Main said 76,000 miners have fallen to the deadly disease since 1968. More than $45 billion has been spent on compensation benefits to 200,000 miners with black lung.

MSHA explained that the new rule will lower the concentration of harmful respirable coal mine dust that causes coal workers' pneumoconiosis — black lung. It includes increased sampling by mine operators, use of new technology for real-time sampling results, immediate corrective action when excessive dust levels are found, determination of noncompliance based on a single MSHA sample, and reduced dust standards. The rule takes effect Aug. 1, with some components phased in over the following two years.

The rule was developed with the input of industry, labor and health professionals. It is the centerpiece of MSHA’s “End Black Lung -- ACT NOW!” campaign. Main said he will take to the road Thursday to begin explaining the new, 991-page rule to miners and industry representatives, and members of Congress.

On the heels of MSHA's announcement, Murray Energy -- which operates three local underground mines -- announced its intention to sue the Department of Labor over the rule. 

"Instead of protecting miners' health, this Rule clearly seeks to destroy the coal industry, and the thousands of jobs that it provides, with absolutely no benefit to the health or safety of miners, whatsoever," Murray said in a release.