Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Opposition to Stickler As MSHA Head Grows

The AFL-CIO and the Charleston Gazette are publicly opposing the nomination of Richard Stickler to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health.

In a letter sent to members of the United States Senate earlier this week, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney pointed out that the recent mine disasters:
Make clear that the next director of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) needs to be someone with a history of advocating for miners' safety and health, not someone with a history of advocating for the interests of mine operators.

Richard Stickler has spent the overwhelming part of his career as a mining company executive. His only experience with public enforcement of health and safety standards was marked by repeated attempts to limit regulations and reduce health and safety protections for miners in Pennsylvania. We cannot rely on Mr. Stickler to root out what Senator Byrd calls the "culture of cronyism" at MSHA, in which the special interests of mine operators take precedence over the health and safety of miners, because his nomination exemplifies the problem.
A Charleston Gazette editorial picked up on the same themes. The Gazette has been meticulously identifying multiple the multiple failurs of MSHA and the Bush administration that led to the conditions that have caused the deaths of 18 miners this year, 16 in West Virginia alone:

SixteenWest Virginia miners died during the first 33 days of this year. If any cause deserves serious attention from the federal government, you’d think that coal mine safety would be it.

Yet President Bush has nominated a longtime coal executive with a poor safety record to head the federal agency responsible for keeping miners safe. Richard Stickler was this administration’s nominee well before 12 West Virginia miners died after the Sago explosion in Upshur County.

Despite widespread belief that more communication equipment and better safety enforcement might have saved at least 11 of those men, Stickler told U.S. senators that current mine safety laws are “adequate.” A day later, two more miners died in separate incidents in Boone County. Yet Stickler remains the administration’s pick.


President Bush’s administration is out of step with the rest of the country. He should find a qualified MSHA nominee to send before the U.S. Senate.

The United Mineworkers also announced last month that they would oppose Stickler's nomination.

Stickler was a mine industry executive before being appointed to run Pennsylvania's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety in 1997. Prior to running the agency, the mines he managed had injury rates that were double the national average, according to government data assembled by the Mineworkers. Stickler was head of Deep Mine Safety during the 2002 Quecreek mine disaster where nine miners were saved from a flooded mine. His agency came under criticism for not red-flagging mapping problems that were blamed for miners at Quecreek breaching an abandoned mine that released millions of gallons of water.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is expected to hold a vote sometime in March on the nomination of Stickler, as well as Ed Foulke to be head of OSHA.

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