Rep. John Kline blocking diesel/cancer report on behalf of mining interests

Note:  This originally published in the Twin Cities Daily Planet on Feb 6, 2012

Rep. John Kline represents the 2nd Minnesota congressional district.  Well, he’s supposed to, but he actually represents the interests of those exploiting the 650 thousand humans he’s supposed to be representing.  He believes, quite sincerely I suspect, that government should protect special interests, while human citizens should sink-or-swim.  To some this might seem like partisan political rhetoric.  I just ask you to withhold judgement for the few minutes needed to read what follows.

Most people already know diesel engine exhaust is highly dangerous to health.  Much of it is made up of tiny particles coated with heavy metals and organic toxins.  The particles carry these through the lungs into the bloodstream and into the brain.  Strokes, heart attacks, and cancer, among other health problems, result.

If it’s unhealthy to live hear a road or to operate a diesel truck, just imagine how unhealthy it must be to work in an underground mine alongside diesel-powered machinery.  In the confined spaces the pollutant concentrations are much higher.  The Center for Public Integrity reports:

“In arguing for a diesel exposure limit in 2001, the mine safety administration said that diesel particles spewed by front-end loaders, generators, air compressors, and other underground equipment could carry with them up to 1,800 other organic chemicals, including carcinogens. Median diesel concentrations in mines, it said, were up to 180 times higher than the average exposure in heavily polluted urban areas and eight times higher than in other workplaces.

‘When there is uncontrolled diesel equipment in an underground mine, it is like working in the tailpipe of a city bus,’ said Mike Wright, health and safety director for the United Steelworkers, which represents 15,000 miners.”

A regulation finally went into effect in 2008 but is only a partial solution.  New diesel engines are much cleaner than old ones but this only happened after years of foot-dragging and corrupt practices by engine makers.

Underground mining was very extensive in Minnesota up until 1961.  The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources–in a project incomplete for lack of funding–has mapped over 200 underground mines on the Iron Range.  Of course, not all of these would have used diesel engines, but on the other hand, many other digging/tunnelling operations all over the state have resulted in similar exposures.  Proposed sulfide mining projects could bring underground mining back to Minnesota.

So one might expect a Minnesota congressman like Mr. Kline to strongly favor full understanding of diesel health hazards so past and future miners can be protected and compensated.

But no, Kline is acting to block release of a report on diesel/mining health hazards in the making since 1992.  The scenario seems similar to actions by the chemical and incinerators industries, etc, to block an EPA report on dioxin.  Without the reports documenting the hazards, regulations won’t be tightened and people will continue to be harmed.  Again, from the Center for Public Integrity:

“The epidemiological study of workers at so-named metal and nonmetal mines was launched in 1995 by the National Cancer Institute and NIOSH to build on studies that suggested a link between diesel and lung cancer in truck drivers and other workers exposed to diesel particulate matter. The study’s results will offer a ‘state-of-the-art evaluation of diesel,’ said Kyle Steenland, a professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and a former NIOSH epidemiologist. ‘It should provide a very important piece of information about whether diesel is a lung carcinogen. Unfortunately, it has been delayed and delayed for years. It’s high time that the public and the scientific community get to see the results of this study.'”

The tactics of the mining and diesel engine interests has been to use the highest-powered lobbyists and lawyers to obstruct at every point.  In this fight they’ve been repeatedly aided by the rulings of Bush-appointed U.S. District Court Judge Richard Haik of Lafayette, La. And Kline.

The mining interests demanded that the draft report and underlying data be given to THEM to review, and to the House Education and Labor Committee–now the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and chaired by Rep Kline–but withheld from the public.  Haik agreed and has found the US Department of Health and Human Services in contempt.

“‘We are troubled by the continued failure of NIOSH to produce the draft publications, data underlying the research reported in those draft publications, and other documents the Committee should be receiving based on instructions from the court,’ Kline and [Republican Rep. Tim] Walberg wrote on July 8.” (direct links not accessible)

Of course, when industrial interests and their legislative stooges like Kline are allowed to interfere in scientific publication this way, nothing good happens.  Nothing good for the public or for science, anyway.

“Rep. Miller, the Democrat, sent his own letter to Howard on Aug. 16. ‘The requirement for a pre-publication review by an interested party ­ and the insinuation of a congressional committee in such review ­ appears to deviate from the normal scientific process and threatens to undermine the integrity of these studies,’ Miller wrote.”

For more details see these stories:

Landmark diesel exhaust study stalled amid industry and congressional objections

Diesel dangers: Mining companies get first look at government cancer study

Diesel report’s publication delayed as industry demands to see documents first


No one from Rep. Kline’s offices or the staff of the Committee on Education and the Workforce has so far returned my calls, so if there is an interpretation of these events less unfavorable to Kline, we weren’t given it.

The Center for Public Integrity does great work, but is hard to work with.  Many of the links in the two stories go to a document source not available to the public, and contact information for reporters is hard to come by.

ACTION:  Call Kline and tell him to stop fronting for mining interests with cancer-causing pollution to hide:

Washington, DC office:  202.225.2271

Burnsville , MN office: 952.808.1213

Alan Muller

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