“It’s been my mission for nearly 50 years to keep our miners and their families safe, secure and healthy. At the very heart of that work is making absolutely sure that no miner is forced to suffer from black lung disease—and if they’re suffering, making sure that they get the benefits and care they need to help manage this debilitating condition,” Rockefeller said.

Under the bill, MSHA would be required to update the rule every five years if instances of the disease do not increase. Rockefeller’s bill would also increase the availability of health records and benefits, provide easier access to legal representation and direct the Government Accountability Office to study ways of making disability claims applications more efficient.

Rockefeller also wrote a letter to President Obama urging his administration to finalize a rule to protect miners. “No miner should have to face the destructive effects of black lung. This heart wrenching disease has hurt too many miners, their families and communities,” Rockefeller wrote. “We must act now before we lose more West Virginia coal miners to this disease.”

The United Mine Workers of America expressed their support of the bill and letter sent to Obama. “As Sen. Rockefeller points out, the terrible scourge of black lung is once again on the rise,” said UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “We know what causes it, and we know how to prevent it. The delay in implementing limits to miners’ exposure to respirable coal dust puts more and more miners at risk every day.”

Autopsies have revealed that 71% of the victims of the Upper Big Branch disaster had black lung disease, including a 25-year-old miner, Rockefeller said.  According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the prevalence of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) among long-term underground miners that participated in chest X-ray screenings decreased from the 1970s to the 1990s. However, since 1999, the prevalence of CWP among U.S. coal miners is increasing in mines of all sizes, and the more serious advanced disease of Progressive Massive Fibrosis (PMF) is much more prevalent among miners from underground mines with fewer than 50 workers. This prevalence is also more pronounced in miners throughout eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia and western Virginia.