Thursday, October 26, 2006

NY Times on Stickler: Mineworkers Need An Enforcement Bulldog, Not An Industry Lapdog

Great NY Times editorial about Bush's recess appointment of Richard Stickler to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration despite strong opposition from mineworkers and the Senate. The Times also reminds us that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist had promised a vote on Stickler if Bush recess appointed him, a promise he has not held to.

Only one gripe. Actually, 65 mineworkers have been killed on the job this year, 42 of whom were coal miners. The others were "metal-non-metal" miners, who died in gold, silver, copper and gravel underground or surface mines.

Weakening the Fight for Mine Safety

Despite being twice rebuffed by the Senate, President Bush has named Richard Stickler, a stolid mining industry careerist, to run the mine safety agency whose serial ineptitude has been laid bare this year by the deaths of 42 mineworkers. Waiting until the Senate left town for the elections, Mr. Bush resorted to a recess appointment to place Mr. Stickler at the heart of enforcing new safety reforms that, in earlier hearings, the appointee himself had claimed were not at all that necessary.

To the contrary, these reforms became a crying need brought home to the nation from the depths of the Sago mine disaster in West Virginia, where 12 workers died in January. Sago presented a clinic in failed government oversight. The new law would double a miner’s emergency oxygen to two hours; mandate electronic devices to track trapped miners; and repair the damage originally done by the administration in cutting more than 200 mine safety inspectors in the name of budget economy.

Mr. Stickler points to his six years as Pennsylvania mine safety chief to rebut criticism that he is the latest example in the administration’s dangerous history of packing safety agencies with pro- industry regulators. But the bulk of his career was in corporate management of mines. Miners and lawmakers have cited the federal agency’s own data in warning that injury rates at his mines were higher than the national average. The administration’s pro-industry tack is a running scandal exemplified by Steven Griles, a mining lobbyist who was appointed deputy secretary of the interior. Mr. Griles devoted four years to rolling back mine regulations and then returned to lobbying for an industry long known for its patronage clout with politicians.

Senate opposition to Mr. Stickler reached the point that the nomination was twice withheld. The Republican majority leader, Bill Frist, said that if the president resorted to a recess appointment — a device guaranteeing Mr. Stickler at least a year in office — the Senate would schedule a showdown vote in response. Senator Frist must be held to his promise. Lawmakers should demand a bulldog enforcement director rather than another industry lapdog.
More 2006 Mine Disaster Stories here.