Lawmakers confirmed President Donald Trump’s choice to head the agency responsible for mine safety, though Democrats were concerned about the former coal CEO’s safety record.
The Senate approved on a party line 52-46 vote David Zatezalo to lead the Mine Health and Safety Administration (MSHA). The agency cited Zatezalo’s coal-mining firm Rhino Resources twice for violating federal health and safety provisions during his time as CEO of the company.
Mine safety advocates believe his record could mean more regulation rollbacks to an agency that has seen significant rollbacks. MSHA has eliminated and delayed Obama-era regulations intended to regulate the mining industry. Democrats railed against Zatezalo.
“Instead of nominating an advocate for workers’ health and safety, President Trump nominated one of the industry’s worst offenders,” Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington told reporters. “David Zatezalo is a mining industry executive who has made it clear he cares more about corporate profits than workers.”
Murray’s West Virginia colleague, Sen. Joe Manchin, panned Zatezalo’s nomination as well.
“After reviewing his qualifications and record of safety during his time in the coal industry, I am not convinced that Mr. Zatezalo is suited to oversee the federal agency that implements and enforces mine safety laws and standards,” Manchin, who is generally supportive of propping up the coal industry, said in September after coming out against Trump’s MSHA pick.
Zatezalo told senators in October during the confirmation hearing that he dismissed the managers who were responsible for citations leveled against the company shortly after falling rocks killed a Rhino minder in 2011.
Trump nominated coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler in October to be EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s second lieutenant, a move that came a month after the president signaled his intention to select a former agency official during the Bush administration.
The White House was poised to select Jeff Holmstead, a former top EPA official under President George W. Bush and some considered more moderate than Wheeler, but Trump zigged instead of zagged and went with Wheeler, who has been more public about his skeptical position on climate change than Holmstead.
Wheeler is a lobbyist for Murray Energy, the coal mining company whose CEO is an adamant Trump supporter. He has lobbied on behalf of CEO Robert Murray and other coal producers since at least 2009, according to lobbying disclosure data.
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