Friday, August 04, 2006

Senate Returns Stickler, Correll, Other Nominees Back To White House

Senate To Bush: "Return To Sender"

In a rare move, the US Senate sent two mine nominees back to the White House before adjourning today.

The nominations of Richard Stickler to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety, and the nomination of John Correll to head the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining were sent back to the White House over concerns about their mine safety records.

"It's our hope that the president will take the opportunity to come up with more suitable candidates," a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said. Under Senate rules, nominations are returned to the president before the start of any congressional recess that lasts more than 30 days. But this rule is usually waived by unanimous consent, though exceptions can be made for specific nominations.

Stickler, as we have written, was manifestly unsuited for the job of ensuring the safety of American miners during the current safety crisis. Most of his career was spent in industry 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. The mine had flooded to to errors in mine maps. Following the flood, which resulted in the amazing rescue of trapped miners, a grand jury determined that the bureau, which had been headed by Stickler for 5 years at that point, should have noticed the mapping problems sooner.

The United Mineworkers and the AFL-CIO opposed Stickler's appointment, and Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., also challenged Stickler's nomination, while Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., questioned his record as head of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Deep Mine Safety. In June, strong opposition to Stickler forced Senate Majority Leader Frist to cancel a vote 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. Stickler has since been working as a mine safety advisor to Labor Secretary Chao.

The Senate also returned the nomination of John Correll to head the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining. Correll, as we have written before, was deeply involved in improper contracting while at MSHA, and was responsible for the firing of an MSHA official who revealed the coverup of "the worst environmental catastrophe in the history of the Eastern United States."

Byrd had a hold on Correll's nomination to provide more time to consider his nomination but had not decided whether to oppose him, his spokesman said. Byrd met with Correll this week. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., had also placed a hold on Correll.

The Senate also sent back to the White House the nominations of William Wehrum to be the Environmental Protection Agency's assistant administrator for air and radiation, Tracy Henke to be executive director of the office of state and local government coordination and preparedness at the Homeland Security Department, and James O'Gara to be deputy director for supply reduction at the Office of National Drug Control Policy and five judges.

Normally, when Congress goes out on break, Presidential nominations are automatically carried over to their return. The fact that these nominations were returned to the White House is an indication of the Senate's deep dissatisfaction with Bush's nominations.

Bush must now either renominate them, nominate new candidates, or make recess appointments while Congress is out.

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