Roundup: New Coal Dust Rules

New black lung rules • Better days for cow-calf ranchers • FCC votes to expand rural broadband subsidies

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The number of black lung disease fell sharply from the 1970s through the 90s, but has since been on the rebound. Machines that kick up more dust and younger miners working longer shifts are thought to be key reasons for the uptick.

Responding to the rise in diagnoses, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has made the broadest change to their safety regulations in four decades. The new rules include cutting the amount of coal dust a miner is allowed to be exposed to by 25% and requiring miners who work in high=dust environments to continuously track dust particles.

At least one energy company is suing to block the rules’ two-year implementation schedule. The United Mine Workers of America haven't commented on the rules yet.

Howard Berkes at NPR reports that MSHA had initially proposed coal-dust limits that were twice as strict as the regulations that were enacted. But the industry complained that the tougher limits would slow production. "The result, says mine safety advocate Celeste Monforton, protects miners' jobs more than their health."

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Cattle ranchers are catching a break, finally, after a tough stretch.

The price of beef has climbed, and the price of corn is down, Politico reports.

“The prices are as good as I have ever seen,” says Myron Williams, a 66-year-old South Dakota rancher who has been in the cattle business since the late 1960s. Net returns for cow-calf operations for 2014-15 will run 35 percent higher in real dollars than the previous peak in 2004-05, according to projections by the University Missouri’s Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute.

But it’s a remarkable turnaround for a set of men and often women who seem to live forever on the edge, caught between hard winters, summer droughts and the Goliaths of the meat-packing industry.

The latest survey data from the Agriculture Department show 84 percent of the beef cows in America are still in herds of 500 head or fewer. While the industry has grown more concentrated at the top, cow-calf ranches are the irreplaceable seed corn — and retain a level of individuality that stands out.

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The FCC voted Wednesday to go forward with a plan to increase the subsidies it gives to Internet and phone companies in rural areas by $1.8 billion next year. This will be phase II of the Connect America Fund, a plan that’s putting almost $10 billion into rural broadband expansion.  Service providers will be responsible for providing 10 Mbps speeds, minimum, to consumers. The current minimum speed to subsidized companies is only 4Mbps. 

 

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