Lowering Miners' Exposure to Respirable Coal Mine Dust

Lowering Miners' Exposure to Respirable Coal Mine Dust

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Proposed Rule
RIN Number:
Release Date:
October 19, 2010
Closing Date:
February 28, 2011
Department of Labor


The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) proposes to lower miners’ exposure to respirable coal-mine dust by revising the agency’s existing standards on miners’ occupational exposure to respirable coal-mine dust. The major provisions of the proposal would lower the existing exposure limit, provide for full-shift sampling, redefine the term ‘‘normal production shift,’’ add reexamination and decertification requirements for persons certified to sample, and maintain and calibrate sampling devices. In addition, the proposed rule would provide for single-shift compliance sampling under the mine operator and MSHA’s inspector sampling programs and would establish sampling requirements for use of the Continuous Personal Dust Monitor (CPDM) and expanded requirements for medical surveillance.


Dollar Year
Time Horizon (Years)
Discount Rates
Expected Costs (Annualized)
$40.4-$44.5 Million
Expected Benefits (Annualized)
$99.10 -$196.8 Million
Expected Costs (Total)
Expected Benefits (Total)
Net Benefits (Annualized)
$54.6-$156.4 Million
Net Benefits (Total)


There are twelve criteria within our evaluation within three broad categories: Openness, Analysis and Use. For each criterion, the evaluators assign a score ranging from 0 (no useful content) to 5 (comprehensive analysis with potential best practices). Thus, each analysis has the opportunity to earn between 0 and 60 points.

Criterion Score


1. How easily were the RIA , the proposed rule, and any supplementary materials found online?
Regulation easily found in regulations.gov by searching on RIN or "coal mine dust," "coal," and "MHSA." Two clicks from the home page, a link routes the reader directly to the proposed rule in regulations.gov. A working link in the Federal Register notice takes the reader to the RIA on the department's web page. The preamble also has a working link to the risk assessment.
2. How verifiable are the data used in the analysis?
The RIA describes the data used in the risk assessment. The preamble has a link to the risk assessment and peer reviews; the risk assessment says data are available in the public record. Virtually all figures that go into the cost analysis are just sourced as "MSHA estimates" with no documentation. The data on the benefit side is solid, but the costs are not up to par.
3. How verifiable are the models and assumptions used in the analysis?
The preamble contains a large table listing numerous studies demonstrating that exposure to coal dust causes illness. Benefit estimates are based on calculations of incidence of illness using models that are referenced in the RIA. Risk assessment was peer reviewed. The RIA references a small number of studies/sources without links. The preamble has an extensive list of references; they are fully cited but few are linked. A huge assumption accounting for most of the monetized benefits—that these diseases affect quality of life more like cancer, and hence monetary value is extremely high—is justified by reference to one study of cancer, not miners' diseases.
4. Was the analysis comprehensible to an informed layperson?
It is mostly straightforward to read, though the explanations of calculations get a bit dense. Acronyms make the cost calculations hard to follow; jargon is sometimes a barrier. The RIA contains a number of typos.


5. How well does the analysis identify the desired outcomes and demonstrate that the regulation will achieve them?
Does the analysis clearly identify ultimate outcomes that affect citizens’ quality of life?
It identifies a reduction in illnesses and deaths from specified diseases. These are clear outcomes with obvious effects on the quality of life.
Does the analysis identify how these outcomes are to be measured?
It calculates change in risk and estimates and monetizes the number of illnesses and deaths to be avoided.
Does the analysis provide a coherent and testable theory showing how the regulation will produce the desired outcomes?
Regulatory mandates will reduce miners' exposure to coal dust. Reduced exposure reduces risk and hence reduces deaths. These theories are certainly testable by measuring dust exposure and comparing health of miners who have experienced various exposure levels.
Does the analysis present credible empirical support for the theory?
The effect of exposure on risk is based on a quantitative risk assessment. The analysis assumes that mandating lower exposure levels and other provisions will definitely reduce exposures to the levels assumed in the analysis.
Does the analysis adequately assess uncertainty about the outcomes?
It largely assumes that the effects of reduced dust exposure are certain. The analysis acknowledges uncertainty about latency and calculates benefits assuming no latency and 10-year latency. The "no latency" assumption does not seem justifiable, so it's not clear why it is included. Numbers are "grossed up" to reflect higher coal production levels in 2009. The RIA admits there are a lot of other uncertainties but says there are no data available to assess them.
6. How well does the analysis identify and demonstrate the existence of a market failure or other systemic problem the regulation is supposed to solve?
Does the analysis identify a market failure or other systemic problem?
There is no relevant discussion in the RIA. The RIA presents data showing that most operations have dust exposure below the new proposed limit; this suggests the problem is concentrated in a minority of mines rather than a systemic problem.
Does the analysis outline a coherent and testable theory that explains why the problem (associated with the outcome above) is systemic rather than anecdotal?
There is no relevant discussion of systemic problem in the RIA. The preamble explains how exposure to dust causes disease. Current incidence of disease is labeled "unacceptable," but the agency offers no standard for determining what level would be acceptable. Could miners really be unaware of the danger? They are paid wage premiums for the risk, so it is hard to see why there would be a market failure.
Does the analysis present credible empirical support for the theory?
The preamble cites medical studies that assess the incidence of dust-related diseases in miners.
Does the analysis adequately assess uncertainty about the existence or size of the problem?
There is no relevant discussion.
7. How well does the analysis assess the effectiveness of alternative approaches?
Does the analysis enumerate other alternatives to address the problem?
The RIA does not assess alternatives. The preamble to the rule states that MSHA considered a variety of alternatives, such as different methods to create the standards and sampling techniques.
Is the range of alternatives considered narrow (e.g., some exemptions to a regulation) or broad (e.g., performance-based regulation vs. command and control, market mechanisms, nonbinding guidance, information disclosure, addressing any government failures that caused the original problem)?
Alternatives listed by MSHA are either tweaks on specific provisions of the regulation or proposals to issue some of the provisions as separate regulations.
Does the analysis evaluate how alternative approaches would affect the amount of the outcome achieved?
It simply lists the alternatives with no analysis regarding the amount of outcome that will be achieved. There is a very small amount of qualitative discussion of the merits of the alternatives.
Does the analysis adequately address the baseline? That is, what the state of the world is likely to be in the absence of federal intervention not just now but in the future?
The baseline for illnesses is assumed to be past years' incidence, grossed up by a factor to reflect increased coal production in 2009. This is clear but essentially assumes the future will be like the past without the new regulation. There is no discussion of what trends can be excpected if MSHA does not take this action.
8. How well does the analysis assess costs and benefits?
Does the analysis identify and quantify incremental costs of all alternatives considered?
The principal costs it analyzes are training, assessment, and hazard inspection costs, plus costs of installing or replacing equipment. The analysis is careful to identify the costs that are incremental to voluntary compliance with existing consensus standards. It provides detailed cost estimates only for the option chosen.
Does the analysis identify all expenditures likely to arise as a result of the regulation?
It identifies an extensive list of expenditures that include labor costs, capital costs, and increases in per ton costs due to delayed production. The analysis also calculates paperwork burdens.
Does the analysis identify how the regulation would likely affect the prices of goods and services?
It asserts no effect on energy supply, distribution, or use.
Does the analysis examine costs that stem from changes in human behavior as consumers and producers respond to the regulation?
There is no relevant discussion.
If costs are uncertain, does the analysis present a range of estimates and/or perform a sensitivity analysis?
It presents two estimates: a "most likely" estimate and a higher estimate that includes "rare instances" where implementation may be difficult or require additional measures. It is not clear why the "most likely" estimate is most likely.
Does the analysis identify the alternative that maximizes net benefits?
A section of the RIA calculates net benefits, but only for the option chosen.
Does the analysis identify the cost-effectiveness of each alternative considered?
The analysis could have calculated cost-effectiveness (only for the alternative chosen) from the information in the RIA—cost per illness averted—but this was not done.
Does the analysis identify all parties who would bear costs and assess the incidence of costs?
It calculates costs for mines of different sizes. It assumes mining companies bear 100 percent of costs. There is no discussion of how employee compensation or coal prices might be affected.
Does the analysis identify all parties who would receive benefits and assess the incidence of benefits?
It estimates risk reduction separately for different occupations in underground and surface mines. The analysis mentions that data are for white miners, and there is no breakdown of effects by race.


9. Does the proposed rule or the RIA present evidence that the agency used the analysis?
It appears the risk assessment and regulatory analysis were done to estimate the effects of decisions that were already made. Regulation appears to have been issued because of past recommendations by NIOSH and the Dust Advisory Committee. These predated the agency's quantitative risk assessment. Justifications for proposals frequently cite the NIOSH criteria document and the Dust Advisory Committee, rather than the RIA. The RIA does check economic feasibility by dividing costs by industry revenues, concluding that it is economically feasible.
10. Did the agency maximize net benefits or explain why it chose another alternative?
The RIA states that net benefits are positive but explicitly notes that MSHA is not required to consider net benefits. It does not calculate net benefits for alternatives, so the agency had no way to compare net benefits of different approaches. The preamble asserts the current level of disease is "unacceptable" but offers no further analysis or criteria for establishing what level is acceptable, so the reasons the regulation went this far but no further are vague.
11. Does the proposed rule establish measures and goals that can be used to track the regulation's results in the future?
The first paragraph of the introduction identifies the departmental strategic goal that this regulation supports. It puts forth no explicit goals or targets to track the regulation. These could have been developed based on the risk assessment.
12. Did the agency indicate what data it will use to assess the regulation's performance in the future and establish provisions for doing so?
There is no such indication, but data on fatalities, diseases, and required medical examinations of miners could reveal whether incidence of diseases falls in the future. It is not clear from the RIA how MSHA could monitor costs.
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