Our Opinion: Not the time

After several years in which it appeared instances of coal miners’ pneumoconiosis — black lung — were decreasing, the disease seems to be making a comeback in our region of the country. Now is not the time to phase out a federal program intended to help victims.

Long-term exposure to coal dust was recognized as the cause of black lung decades ago. Since then, new technologies and new mining practices have been effective in reducing the number of people who contract the disease. For some reason — and the cause needs to be identified and dealt with — there has been an increase in cases.

Many victims of the malady, which is incurable, debilitating and sometimes fatal, are helped by the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. It is supported by taxes paid by mining companies.

But under current law, the tax is scheduled to be decreased by half at the end of this year.

Fortunately, Republicans in the House of Representatives are using a general tax bill as a vehicle to seek a one-year extension of the current funding level. That provision should be supported by the full House, the U.S. Senate and President Donald Trump.

After several years during which it seemed nearly everyone in Washington was out to destroy the coal industry, it may seem natural that some — perhaps because of guilty consciences — want to give mining companies a break.

Fine. Do that — but not at the expense of men and women who labor in the mines and sometimes pay a price by contracting black lung. Keep the disability trust fund as it is.