Thursday, June 15, 2006

Truth To Power: Mine Widow Tells President To Can Stickler

President Bush signed the first major overhaul in mine safety law since 1977 today. The ceremony was attended by , the only survivor of the Sago mine disaster, along with relatives of the victims of this year's mine accidents.

In addition to the usual blah, blah, ("We make this promise to American miners and their families: We'll do everything possible to prevent mine accidents and make sure you're able to return safely to your loved ones," Bush said), the president got a bit more than he had figured on:

Deborah Hamner, whose husband, George Hamner, was killed at Sago, told the president that she was honored to attend the ceremony but opposed his choice to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Bush's nominee, Richard Stickler, faces staunch opposition from Senate Democrats and miners' advocates. They say he has spent too many years as a coal industry executive.

Bush defended his pick during the speech before the bill signing. "He was a miner, mine shift foreman, a superintendent, and a manager, and the Senate needs to confirm Richard Stickler to this key position," Bush said.

The Senate disagreed, forcing Majority Leader Frist to cancel a vote Tuesday that would have shut off debate on Stickler's nomination, because Republicans didn't have enough votes to overcome a filibuster by West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd and move the nomination foward.

The daughter of a Sago victim also expressed some frustration with the limited achievements of the mine safety bill itself.
Peggy Cohen, who lost her father, Fred Ware, at Sago, said she hoped lawmakers would continue to strengthen mine safety laws. "It's a start," she said of the new law. "Let's hope it's not the end."
Although the bill passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House overwhelmingly, there was some frustration that the amendments offered by California Congressman George Miller were not seriously considered. Miller had pressed for four amendments that would have strengthened the bill -- including supplying 48 hours of air for trapped miners -- but the original bill was strongly supported by Senate Democrats, the United Mineworkers Union, the AFL-CIO and the National Mining Association.