Remarks on Signing Into Law the Black Lung Benefits Reform Act of 1977
THE PRESIDENT. I think the attendance here this morning at this signing ceremony indicates the extreme importance of this legislation. Coal mining has always been a difficult and a dangerous trade, and among its most tragic risks has been black lung disease.
Three weeks ago, I signed a bill that provided for a new trust fund to be supported by an excise tax on coal to pay for black lung benefits. Today, I'm quite pleased to sign House bill 4544, the Black Lung Benefits Act of 1977, to strengthen the administration of that program.
These two bills, in conjunction with the Mine Safety and Health Amendments Act of 1977, which was signed last year, amount to a comprehensive Federal effort to reduce the human and social costs to our growing dependence on coal.
Coal miners have a right to working conditions as free as possible from dangerous coal dust. The black lung program recognizes that miners and their families also deserve compensation under a fair system when they contract this terrible disease and die or are disabled as a result of their work in the mines.
In the past, miners disabled by black lung disease too often have been denied the benefits they deserve. This bill will remedy many defects in the program. It simplifies and streamlines the process of filing for benefits and expands the eligibility to include respiratory and pulmonary impairment other than just to the lungs.
It eliminates unfair rules and time limits that have prevented disabled miners and their survivors from receiving benefits. The Labor Department will now be allowed to set fair standards of eligibility, based on the latest medical developments. Together, these amendments will ensure that more miners and their families will receive the benefits that they deserve.
The Congress and my administration have worked closely to develop these bills because of our great concern about the tragic effects of black lung disease. Many Members of the Congress have worked for this bill and the companion revenue bill already passed.
I want especially to thank Congressman Perkins in the House and Jennings Randolph in the Senate, who have visited me frequently about this legislation since I've been in office, and also, of course, Congressmen Thompson and Ullman, Senators Byrd, Williams, Long, and Dee Huddleston, and many others on the committees for the passage of these good reforms.
We could not restore life or health to the victims of this disease, but we can at least help to lift the financial burdens that these disabled miners and their families must bear. This bill accomplishes that goal.
As we've come to recognize, increased coal production is vital to our success in meeting future energy needs. But increased coal production must not be accomplished at the expense of greater suffering for coal miners and their families. This bill is another demonstration that the Federal Government will do all it can to give miners the support and the fair treatment that they deserve.
On behalf of the people of our country and particularly those States where coal mining is a major industry, I want to express my deep thanks to the Members of the Congress, to the members of the Cabinet, and to other interested persons who have made this comprehensive legislation-three major bills in the last 6 or 8 months—possible to alleviate the affliction that has for so long been suffered by the brave and courageous and dedicated and sometimes long-suffering coal miners of our country.
[At this point, the President signed the bill.]
Senator Randolph, would you like to say a word?
SENATOR RANDOLPH. Mr. President, there is a commitment not only of your administration but of the Congress and, especially, I think, of the American people to do justice in connection with what has now become law. It's been a long battle, really, to aid the miners and their survivors. We began in 1969, and that was the first bill.
Senator Williams, Senator Byrd, Senator Javits, Senator Stafford, many, many in the Senate remember those days. We did that, Mr. President—and I must not speak too long—we did it one year before we passed the occupational health and safety legislation, because it was believed in the House and in the Senate that this had a priority, this type of work done by the miners.
Then, as you know, and others who are gathered here—and I express appreciation to all of them—we had the amendments of 1972, where we had relied on the X-ray, practically without any other proof, and we brought in pulmonary and respiratory ailments as possible proof of black lung. And then in 1977, we continued with legislation that, I think, is the finalization of this effort.
And as you and all who are here know, we have moved from the Federal payments of the Government, now, to the tonnages which will be produced by the miners—50 cents a ton on deep mining, 25 cents a ton on surface mining. And so, I'm sure Arnold Miller will recognize the need for productivity of coal, because this is the manner in which the money will come in with which the black lung payments will be made.
This final thought: We believe there are approximately 170,000 to 190,000 pending and denied cases that will be reviewed and, hopefully, acted on as quickly as possible.
I think this is a good day for America, Mr. President. It's a day not just of compassion, but it's a day of the realization of the responsibility of people to help those who deserve help. And I take this moment-and I'll be forgiven—I want to say that Anice Floyd stands here at the left, never missing a day in working on these matters. And I want to thank her, because she represents, really, thousands and thousands of people.
I never am a partisan in the sense of being, you know, a partisan that goes too far. [Laughter] But I want to say in the final days of the enactment of this legislation-Bob, and you know it—on the Hill, Senator Javits deserves very, very much credit. He helped us in a very difficult time, when in the conference it looked as if we might not make it.
And although we had some rather rough words—and I hope Carl Perkins somehow will know what I've said about him—that no one labored more diligently than Carl Perkins, certainly, who understands the problems of coal and coal mining, than did this Representative in the Congress.
Now, if I've spoken too long, it's only to express appreciation to all the Members of the Congress who worked since '69, including now, '78, on this vital legislation, and to express the belief that when you, Mr. President, with your close attention to these later bills, which really summarize what has been done—and these are very vital because of the changeover that takes place—that justice has been done, and these men, their survivors will live with more dignity and with comfort and, yes, with faith in America.
THE PRESIDENT. Congressman Perkins is not here, and I'm very sorry that he can't be, because he's devoted a major part of his effort to this legislation, as has been so generously recognized by Senator Randolph. But Frank Thompson is here. Frank, perhaps you'd like to say a word.
REPRESENTATIVE THOMPSON. Mr. President, I'd like to express my deep appreciation to you for your interest and the cooperation that we had from your administration on this, to my colleagues in the other body, to my House Members. It fell upon me to introduce the substitute at my distinguished friend and chairman's request, Carl Perkins.
And happily, the substitute carried healthily, as did the conference report. This is a great day of joy for me and for my distinguished New Jersey colleague, Senator Williams, chairman of the Senate committee. We don't have much coal mining in New Jersey, Mr. President, but we sure use a lot of it, and we need it.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, almost all of the Members of Congress here could make a very heartfelt statement about this legislation. The bills that have been passed in other years, 1969 and before, only set up temporary programs. And one thing that hasn't been mentioned is that this now makes these programs permanent.
There's no future threat, I don't believe, that the coal miners would be deprived of this fair and just right to expect compensation for their suffering.
I want to express again my thanks to all of you. It's always difficult to know whom to call on to speak and whom to ignore. But I think in my choice this morning, you've heard the eloquence and the deep feelings of both the House and Senate expressed.
Thank you very much.
Note: The President spoke at 9:33 a.m. at the signing ceremony in the State Dining Room at the White House.
As enacted, H.R. 4544 is Public Law 95-239, approved March 1.
Jimmy Carter, Remarks on Signing Into Law the Black Lung Benefits Reform Act of 1977 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244558