Facing certain defeat in a vote to close off debate, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist cancelled a scheduled vote this afternoon on the nomination of Richard Stickler to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) opposed Frist's motion to cancel the vote and demanded that the vote take place unless he was assured that the Bush Administration would not recess appoint Stickler. After consulting with the White House, Frist agreed that if Bush were to move to recess appoint Stickler, that a Senate vote in would occur first. (The President is allowed to "recess appoint" nominees when the Senate is out of session. Bush has used this tactic numerious times to appoint controversial nominees who can't get Senate approval.)
Kennedy issued a statement calling on Bush to "reconsider and to nominate someone to this crucial position who is a proven champion for mine workers’ safety.”
The Republican leadership’s decision to cancel the vote on the Stickler nomination today shows growing consensus that the nation’s coal miners and their families deserve much better. Mr. Stickler has a troubling history of bending the rules for mine companies and looking the other way when it comes to the safety of mine workers. Too many brave coal miners have lost their lives in recent months to allow a nominee with his record to go forward.I have written numerous times about Stickler, most recently here, in an appeal to the administration to withdraw his nomination. Although Bush didn't listen to me, enough Senators apparently listened to the United Mineworkers, the families of miners killed in recent mine disasters and you.
Most of Stickler's career was spent as a mine industry manager where the mines he managed had injury rates that were double the national average, according to government data assembled by the United Mineworkers. And while serving as Pennsylvania’s director of the Bureau of Deep Mine Safety, his role in not preventing the Quecreek mine near-disaster has been told. Stickler made an equally unimpressive impression at his confirmation hearing. His appearance was less than dynamic, to put it mildly. Stickler told the senators that current mine safety laws are “adequate” and revealed no sign that he would be the kind of forceful advocate for mine safety that this nation needs.
It's unclear whether Stickler's nomination is completely dead, but it's obviously in critical condition on life support, and the message has gone out loud a clear that we're fed up with this administration's lack of concern with the health and safety of this nation's workers.
More stories on recent mine disasters here.