David Zatezalo, the retired coal company executive from West Virginia and SME member was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to head the U.S. Mine, Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
The U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination by a party line vote of 52-46 with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposed. He will replace Joe Main in the position that is responsible for safety at all of the nation’s mine.
Zatezalo retired in 2014 as chairman of Rhino Resources following a 41-year career in the mining industry. He told the Senate committee that the U.S. mining industry is safer than ever, technology can further improve it and the required four annual mine inspections shouldn’t be reduced.
“Our first priority is preventing people from getting hurt and improving the compliance regime across the board,” he said at his confirmation hearing. His nomination goes next to a floor vote, which had not been scheduled as of press time. A similar partisan split would confirm him.
The Associated Press reported that Zatezalo told the senators he wouldn’t reopen the investigation sought by ex-Massey Energy chief executive officer Don Blankenship in the 2010 West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 miners unless there is new evidence.
Opponents of his nominations pointed to Rhino’s safety record and its run-ins with MSHA.
At his Senate confirmation hearing in October, Zatezalo said he dismissed the local managers who were responsible for the violations that lead to the MSHA citations.
“I did not try to lawyer up and stop anything from happening. I felt if you haven’t done your job we should be big kids and deal with it as such,” he said.
Democrats cited that safety record in voting against him. Among them was Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who has supported many of President Trump’s nominees as he faces a tough reelection battle next year.
Republicans were happy with Zatezalo, and welcomed him as someone with with the experience and knowledge needed to enforce safety laws without being too heavy-handed.
“He knows about various levels of the business, which will be an important asset as he works with operators, miners and inspectors to ensure that mining operations are safe for our nation’s mineworkers,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said.
“Having begun his career as a coal miner himself, and having later managed and operated a number of mines, Mr. Zatezalo has a keen understanding of the challenges and risks sometimes associated with mining, and this firsthand experience will serve him well in his new role.”In his testimony, Zatezalo said he would support Trump’s agenda for the health and safety of American miners. In his career, he said he managed and operated 39 different mines. The U.S. industry, he said, is safer and healthier than ever before, but progress is needed, including technology for real-time monitoring of silica dust blamed for a virulent variation of the black lung disease that has afflicted even some younger coal miners.