As a young man, Barry Shrewsbury (not pictured) dug coal in the West Virginia mines and spent his time off hunting and fishing in the rolling hills.
Now, at 62, he struggles to breathe and accomplish basic tasks such as shopping and showering, and relies on a federal fund for ex-miners with black lung disease to pay for an oxygen tank and doctor visits.
"The benefits are a lifeline," Shrewsbury said between laboured breaths after a treatment at the Bluestone Health Center in Princeton, West Virginia, an industrial-style building set against the leafy landscape.
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“We need to take care of the miners,” said Virginia Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith, who represents a district that has seen one of the biggest surges in the disease. “We first need to have all facts on the table.”
The mining association and large miners such as Peabody Energy, Arch Coal and Consol Energy are already pressing their case, according to Congressional lobbying records that show the black lung fund among the subjects discussed in their recent meetings with lawmakers.
Peabody spokeswoman Michelle Constantine declined to comment. Arch spokesman Logan Bonacorsi and Consol spokesman Zachary Smith did not respond to requests for comment.
The upcoming GAO report was requested in 2016 by Democratic Congressmen Bobby Scott of Virginia and Sander Levin of Michigan and has undergone review by the administration of President Donald Trump, who has focused on slashing regulation to help the coal industry.
White House spokeswoman Kelly Love did not respond to a request for comment on the administration’s position on the excise tax.