A federal appeals court has rejected coal industry challenges to a landmark Obama administration rule aimed at reducing miners’ exposure to coal dust that causes deadly black lung disease.

The ruling by a three-judge panel from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals comes just weeks after some mine operators had asked the court for an emergency order to block the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s continued implementation of the latest phase of the agency rule.

“This is indeed a good day for coal miners,” said MSHA chief Joe Main. “For years, MSHA worked hard to craft a balanced rule that would allow miners to stay healthy and businesses to continue to operate.”

While mine fires and explosions garner a lot of attention from the media and politicians, black lung kills far more miners — perhaps as many as 10,000 between 1995 and 2005, according to estimates from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Since 1968, 76,000 coal miners nationwide have died from black lung, or coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, which is actually a collection of debilitating and potentially fatal ailments caused by breathing coal dust. Miners inhale tiny dust particles that are released into the air by coal-cutting machines.

The latest phase of the MSHA rule, expected to be implemented on Feb. 1, involves requiring miners to use continuous personal monitors to calculate dust exposures in real-time. Later this year, MSHA is scheduled to implement a third and final phase of the rule to reduce the maximum legal level of dust in working mines.

The rule had been challenged by, among others, Murray Energy and the National Mining Association.

In a statement, Murray Energy said that it was “deeply disappointed” by the ruling and would ask the appeals court to reconsider “in order to see this illegal and destructive rule, which does nothing for our miners’ health, completely invalidated.”

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.