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Senator Murray Speaks Out Against Unqualified Mine Safety Nominee

Jun 13 2006

Murray Urges President to Withdraw Nomination of Richard Stickler to the Mine Safety and Health Administration

(Washington, D.C.) – In a speech on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) urged the Senate to reject the nomination of Richard Stickler to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

"We need a leader at the Mine Safety and Health Administration who will not accept the status quo that has cost miners their lives," Murray said. "It is wrong to turn the enforcement of our mine safety laws over to a former coal company executive who has no background in miner health and safety."

Senator Murray's remarks follow:

Mr. President, I rise to oppose the nomination of Richard Stickler to be the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health. That's a long title, but it means one thing. This person will be in charge of the health and safety of every miner in America.

That's a serious responsibility, and it requires a serious leader – someone with a strong background in mine safety and a strong commitment to aggressively protect America's mine workers. Mr. Stickler offers neither. The President respectfully should withdraw his nomination and send us a more suitable nominee.

Just six months ago, 12 miners were killed in the Sago disaster. In the wake of that tragedy, the Senate did the right thing and passed the most comprehensive mine safety update in a generation. I was honored to work on that historic bill with Senators Kennedy, Enzi, Isakson, Rockefeller and Byrd.

But we need to do more than just a pass a law. We need to make sure we provide the resources and the leadership to carry it out. That's why it's so disturbing that the Senate Majority Leadership is trying to push this unqualified nominee through.

Senator Byrd, who represents the Sago families, has raised very valid concerns about Mr. Stickler's qualifications. Following Senate tradition, those concerns should be heeded. They should give all of us pause. Instead, the Senate Majority Leadership is departing from our usual process and trying to push this nominee through the Senate. That's the wrong course of action when the lives of America's miners are at stake.

I'm passionate about this issue because I've worked on mine safety in the HELP Committee. In fact, it was my questioning of the nominee at his confirmation hearing that revealed his "business as usual" approach to miner health and safety. When Richard Stickler testified at his HELP Committee confirmation hearing in January, he told me that he believes current mine safety laws are "adequate." I could not disagree more, and neither could the House and Senate, which recently passed the most significant mine safety improvements in a generation.

I was so disappointed in Mr. Stickler's responses at the hearing that I asked him to answer further questions in writing. In his reply, Mr. Stickler could not suggest a single way to improve mine safety. Not one single suggestion.

Think about that for a minute. We wouldn't put someone in charge of food safety who has no ideas about how to make consumers safer. We wouldn't put someone in charge of airline safety who has no ideas about how to make air travel safer. And we certainly shouldn't put someone in charge of mine safety who has no ideas about how to make our mines safer.

We need a leader at the Mine Safety and Health Administration who will not accept the status quo that has cost miners their lives. It is wrong to turn the enforcement of our mine safety laws over to a former coal company executive who has no background in miner health and safety.

Here's how the head of the United Mine Workers of America put it in a letter to President Bush:

"The nation's miners cannot tolerate having another mine executive running the Agency responsible for protecting their health and safety. For too many years, miners have endured an Agency directed by coal mine executives. Too often these mining executives place a priority on productivity, but fail to focus on miners' health and safety. Too many times MSHA has not done all that it is charged with doing to promote miners' health and safety."

Those are the words of Cecil Roberts, international president of the United Mine Workers of America. The AFL-CIO also opposes this nomination and with good reason.

Mr. President, with America's miners risking their lives everyday and a new law that must be vigorously enforced we cannot entrust mine safety to someone who has not shown the background, passion or desire to fight for the health and safety of America's miners. When it comes to mine safety, we cannot tolerate business as usual. We must reject this nominee and demand a leader who will stand up for America's miners.