Front Porch Blog

Who Upholds a Miner’s Last Defense?

Last year, the Bush Administration attempted to put coal executive Richard Stickler in charge of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Stickler is a former employee of Massey Energy (famous for it’s 100s of violations now in court.)

Because of his poor record on mine safety, Stickler was opposed by the United Mine Workers, both West Virginia Senators, and congressional Democrats. His appointment was blocked.

However, the President can circumvent Congressional approval by making “reccess appointements” while the Senate is out of session.

Which…it turns out, he just did.

Richard Stickler is now the man in charge of miner’s safety. Individual miner’s personal safety is the latest sacrifice the government is willing to make for Massey Energy. Stickler was too lax on safety to be approved by the US Senate (which we gotta admit…doesn’t always have the highest standards), is a former coal executive, and a former employee of Massey…

MSHA said 40 U.S. coal miners have died on the job so far this year.
“The sad reality of the Bush administration’s actions is that the person who will now lead MSHA lacks the trust of the miners he’s charged to protect and has a skewed view of what the safety priorities should be,” said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. “We need a bulldog agency that will place miner safety over all other priorities, and not an agency that will continue to place a higher priority on mine production than on miner protection.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said Bush’s appointment sends the message that “the safety of our miners in West Virginia and across the country is not a priority.”
Data shows that enforcement of mine safety is ALREADY slipping under Bush.

Stickler’s dangerous and undemocratic appointment is not the exception to the rule, but is instead – as Senator Rockefeller points out – a disturbing trend in the Appalachian mines.

-The number of major fines over $10,000 has dropped by nearly 10 percent since 2001. The dollar amount of those penalties, when adjusted for inflation, has plummeted 43 percent to a median of $27,584.

-Less than half of the fines levied between 2001 and 2003 – about $3 million – have been paid.

-The budget and staff for the enforcement office also have declined, forcing the agency to make do with about 100 fewer coal mine enforcement personnel.

-In serious criminal cases, the number of guilty pleas and convictions fell 54.8 percent since 2001.

-In the first four years of the Bush administration, the federal government has averaged 3.5 criminal convictions a year; in the four years before that the average was 7.75 per year.

Stickler’s appointment was supposed to last until the end of 2007 – without Senate approval – but even some congressional Republicans had a problem with that.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said this summer that if Bush planned a recess appointment of Stickler, Republicans would schedule a Senate vote on the nomination first.
I don’t believe that for a second. Frist is retiring to run for President and won’t even be in the Senate next term. If new Republican leader Mitch McConnell says that there will be a vote on Stickler, then I’ll start to think about believing it, but I won’t count my chickens before they hatch.

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