OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY UNDER FIRE. Public health advocates warn say that Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is expected to introduce an amendment to the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Bill that would divert funding away from NIOSH, the agency charged with defining and enforcing occupational safety regulations. The amendment would restrict the sole source of federal support for NIOSH's Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) program. In its original form, the House bill would have allocated $88.365 million for NORA, a sum that looks like small change in comparison to the estimated $128 billion -- $155 billion that occupational illnesses and injuries cost our economy every year.

The Rayburn building isn't exactly rife with occupational hazards, which might explain why Rep. Barton doesn't sympathize with the 5,734 workers who died on the job in 2005 -- not including an additional 50,000 who died from occupational diseases like "Popcorn Lung," a fatal condition resulting from prolonged inhalation of diacetyl vapors released in the production of artificially flavored popcorn.

Or maybe the man described by the Washington Post as a "determined ally" of industry simply doesn't think his personal entourage of coal lobbyists should have to sacrifice profits in order to protect their employees. Anything that's good for workers must be bad for business. Maybe Barton is worried that if NIOSH gets the $88.365 million, someone might actually hold industry accountable for maintaining minimum safety standards.

--Mara Revkin