Wednesday, September 20, 2006

MSHA Nominee Richard Stickler: Chao's Puppet?

As you're probably all aware, President Bush has renominated Richard Stickler to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Stickler's nomination had been returned to the White House after a vote on his nomination was cancelled due to widespread dissatisfaction with his lackluster corporate background and his perceived lack of committment to strengthen the agency's regulations and enforcement capabilities.

Mine safety expert Sandy Krumholtz knows Stickler. I thought her opinion on Stickler's nomination might be of interest:
I don't think that Stickler is a bad choice to head MSHA, given his background. The man that I have seen over the years, and at conferences, is a compassionate, seemingly honest man who has tried to do the best job that he can do. Keep in mind that no one is perfect.

I believe that we do need someone with mining experience (not necessarily underground coal experience) to head MSHA. You just can't "get it" until you have been underground day-after-day. On the other hand, there are people who are not miners, like Tony Oppegard, who have been underground and have their miner's certificate, and do understand what happens when the law is not enforced. He would make a good Assistant Secretary, but that will never happen, no matter who is in power.

What upsets me about Stickler is that I do not think he is the man to stand up to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, should there be differences on how the laws are enforced. The "Stickler" I saw in the Senate hearing is not the "Stickler" that I've seen in the past. At the Senate hearing, I saw a man who appeared to be an Elaine Chao mouthpiece (albeit not as nasty or conniving as Chao is), versus a man who was speaking his own convictions. He was obviously torn between what he wanted to say, versus what he was told say.

I think that if Stickler were left to his own devices to do his job, he would be a very good Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health. That said, I do not think Elaine Chao will leave anyone alone to do what they do best, and she would certainly meddle on behalf of the coal industry, making Stickler into the puppet that we saw at the hearing.