Stickler Sticks It Out at MSHA

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Richard Stickler's departure from MSHA were premature. The Pump Handle, an activist blog with a weekly emailed newsletter that often skewers federal safety efforts, recently reported that Richard Stickler had quietly left the Mine Safety and Health Administration when his recess appointment as administrator ended Dec. 31 because of the congressional recess between terms of the 110th Congress. U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, proved the report was incorrect when he chided the White House on Jan. 4 for reappointing Stickler.

And MSHA has posted the text of a long, detailed speech Stickler wrote for presentation Jan .10 to the West Virginia Coal Association's 35th Annual Mining Symposium in which he touted his agency's "considerable progress" at implementing the MINER Act -- directly challenging the claim of U.S. House of Representatives labor chairman Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., that implementation of the act is moving too slowly.

Mines are implementing the emergency evacuation provisions of the current law in a speedy manner and would have enough self-contained self rescuers (emergency breathing units) in place if manufacturers could produce them fast enough, Stickler said in his prepared remarks (www.msha.gov/MEDIA/SPEECHES/2008/01102008.asp).

MSHA's SCSR database, useful to alert operators if there is a recall, now lists 71,300 SCSRs, Stickler said. Fifteen flagrant violations have been assessed, and 22 more are in progress. Emergency response plans have been approved and are being implemented for all underground coal mines. The reopened comment period on the emergency standard for mine seals closes Jan. 18, and MSHA will then work to issue a final standard early this year, he said. OMB is reviewing a final rule on mine rescue team requirements for underground coal mines. MSHA has hired a net of 177 enforcement personnel since June 2006, exceeding its goal. Mines and MSHA are working to train about 55,000 new miners -- hired because of high demand for minerals and also to fill positions among the nation's 350,000 miners, 10 percent of whom are leaving the industry annually, he said -- and Kentucky, the state with the most mines, had zero deaths in its underground mines in 2007, and 3,700 operations worked a combined 80 million hours in 2006 without a single lost-time incident, he said.

Kennedy's press release said the White House "has again gone behind the Senate's back to install Mr. Stickler as head of the agency that is supposed to protect our nation's miners. After almost a year and a half of Mr. Stickler's stewardship, MSHA remains an agency in crisis and in need of strong leadership. I urge the President to send us a nominee who will give our brave miners and their families the kind of effective safety enforcement they deserve."

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