Sen. Rand Paul is voicing concerns about the cost of proposed regulations aimed at reducing the disease of black lung which has been on the rise among coal miners in Kentucky and West Virginia.
The Courier-Journal reports that at a meeting of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last week, Paul said: "There is a point or a balancing act between when a regulation becomes burdensome and our energy production is stifled. We have to assess the cost."
Paul apparently prefers that the cost of black lung be paid by the hourly workers who mine coal, rather than by the companies that sell it or those who consume it in the form of electricity.
The direction of Paul's empathy is not surprising; the coal industry has been good to him.
Alliance Resource Partners, the Tulsa-based company that is headed by Kentuckian Joe Craft and operates underground mines in Western Kentucky, gave $2.4 million to American Crossroads, the political organization founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove and former Republican National Committee chairman Mike Duncan of Martin County.
American Crossroads, in turn, spent $1.4 million against Jack Conway, Paul's Democratic opponent, in last year's Kentucky Senate race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
It was the fourth-highest amount the Rove organization put into any race, even more than it spent trying to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada.
American Crossroads also received $250,000 from Cumberland Resources, which owns mines in Eastern Kentucky and was bought by Massey Energy last year.
Eyeing a run for president from his freshman seat in Congress, Paul no doubt wants to keep the coal money flowing.
Last week he said "every regulation doesn't save lives" and suggested that the Mine Safety and Health Administration has drastically underestimated the cost to industry of complying with the proposed regulations.
Inhaling the dust in coal mines causes black lung, a term that includes a number of debilitating and often fatal respiratory diseases.
The new rules would lower dust limits and require better dust monitoring in coal mines and extend X-ray monitoring now available to underground miners to surface miners. The proposal also addresses quartz dust, which has increased in Appalachian mines as coal reserves have been depleted and more drilling is required to reach the remaining coal.
MSHA puts an initial price tag of up to $93 million on complying with the proposed dust limits and monitoring requirements, and after that up to $45 million a year. MSHA considers the cost feasible because it would be less than 1 percent of the industry's annual revenues.
In return, the lungs of the 79,000 Americans who dig coal would be better protected. MSHA estimates that over a 45-year working lifetime, the proposed regulations would prevent 3,876 new cases of coal workers' pneumoconiosis, progressive massive fibrosis and severe emphysema and 131 deaths from non-malignant respiratory disease, saving up to $197 million in benefits.
Earlier regulations greatly reduced black lung. It's taken years for MSHA to respond to the resurgence of the disease, and what's being proposed seems reasonable.
As long as coal is mined, there's no way to avoid the cost of black lung. The only question is who will pay.