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Today at a hearing of the Senate HELP Committee, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) questioned two of President Bush's nominees for critical worker safety positions.

The nominees are Richard E. Stickler to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and Edwin G. Foulke, Jr to head the the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

A transcript of Senator Murray's opening comments and questioning of the nominees follows:

SENATOR MURRAY: Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this confirmation hearing to review the qualifications of the President's nominees to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The recent mining disasters in West Virginia should serve as a stark warning to all of us that we need to do more to protect our workers on the job. MSHA and OSHA should stand at the forefront of efforts to protect workers through new technology and new regulations.

Instead, we have seen this administration's industry-dominated political appointees remove numerous critical health and safety regulations from their safety agenda.

And today it would appear we are being offered more of the same. While I am sure Mr. Stickler and Mr. Foulke are honorable men, their professional backgrounds give me pause. I wonder whether a coal company executive like Mr. Stickler will continue MSHA's policy of entering into voluntary partnerships with his former industry colleagues, while failing to move forward on important technological and other mine safety improvements.

Under his industry predecessor, MSHA pulled 18 health and safety regulations from its agenda, reduced fines, and sought budget cuts and staff reductions at the agency. In his testimony Mr. Stickler said the Mine Act was working just fine, yet we know that over the last 5 years there have been over 400 fires in underground coal mines, often ignited because of accumulations of coal dust. A regulation to reduce coal dust was pulled from MSHA's regulatory agenda in 2002.

For the last several years, Mr. Foulke has worked for Jackson-Lewis, which is widely known as one of the most anti-worker law firms in the country. A lawyer with a background of defending his corporate clients against workers who have been injured on the job does not strike me as the best hope for improving worker safety.

And it certainly does not square with the original language Congress used when chartering OSHA--``to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions.''

Mr. Chairman these are the only two agencies in the Federal Government which are explicitly chartered to protect workers on the job. Given their professional backgrounds, I am not at all sure these two nominees are the best candidates to fill these two critically important jobs. The President should go back to the drawing board and nominate individuals with health and safety backgrounds that will put the interests of workers first and foremost on their agendas.

We owe that to the families of the miners in West Virginia, as well as the thousands of other workers around the country who are injured on the job every year.

SENATOR MURRAY: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman, for having this extremely important hearing, and thank you both for being here today. We are very interested in your answers. I know I will have more questions to submit that I will not be able to ask today, but it is terribly important that both of you recognize that the lives and the health of thousands and thousands and thousands of Americans will be in your hands, and the philosophy that you direct these departments and agencies with. I certainly think the mining accident made all of us much more aware that what we enact in terms of regulations and how we enforce those and whether they are voluntary can make the difference in whether or not someone's life is saved or not. So both of you are potentially heading up agencies that all of us are really looking to, to see where they go from here. I echo the words of Senator Kennedy, Mr. Stickler, and I know you are an honorable man. I think I want to hear from you where you are going to fall when it comes down to enforcing these regulations. I know West Virginia enacted very quickly a package of mine safety reforms, and I want to know from you, Are you going to move forward quickly in that direction, or are we going to hear more of the voluntary private partnership philosophy of they will do the right thing if we just sit back and let them? Or do you believe that we should move forward quickly with new mine safety provisions?

MR. STICKLER: Well, I am aware that MSHA has already sent out the notice for information regarding technology for mine rescue or rescue devices or new technology in general. And if I am confirmed, I would look forward to reviewing the record of the information that comes in.

SENATOR MURRAY: Do you see yourself coming back and encouraging us to move forward quickly on regulations to make sure that this does not happen again?

MR. STICKLER:I think whatever it will take to prevent these kind of tragic accidents is what I will pursue, the best of my ability to put those in place.

SENATOR MURRAY: We do not know you well. Are you a fast-acting, emphatic person? Or are you a person who sits back and looks at study after study?

MR. STICKLER: Well, I am an engineer, I am analytical, but I don't think I have ever had paralysis from analysis. I try to get to the important points in my analysis and make appropriate decisions, and certainly the many years that I have been a manager requires somebody that can make decisions quickly.

SENATOR MURRAY: You have a lot of background and experience. Do we need to update the laws that are out there?

MR. STICKLER: The Federal mine health and safety laws?

SENATOR MURRAY: Yes.

MR. STICKLER: I think generally the laws are adequate. Since 1977, I have reviewed thousands of mine accidents and doing accident data analysis, and in the vast majority of the cases, the accidents could have been prevented had the law been complied with.

SENATOR MURRAY: Do you think that was the case recently in the mining accidents?

MR. STICKLER: Well, that accident investigation has not concluded, and the only information I have about it is what I have seen in the news media, and some of that may not be correct. But my experience has been that it is very important to complete a thorough investigation, collect all of the facts, and analyze those to determine the root cause. Once you have the root cause identified, then it is not that difficult to determine what corrective action should be taken.

SENATOR MURRAY: OK. Thank you. I think that answers my question, and I just have a minute left, and I do want to direct a question to Mr. Foulke. I think you know that when OSHA was chartered, it was to assure, insofar as possible, every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions. And I just have to say that, looking at your resume and knowing that you come from a law firm that defends corporate clients against workers, causes me concern as to which side you are going to be on. And so I will be listening to you, the answers to your questions as to whether you are going to be advocating for workers. If you could just comment real quickly, and then I have a question on asbestos I want to ask.

MR. FOULKE: Well, Senator Murray, I would say that my practice, especially through the Review Commission and then since then with my current law firm, you know, has been focused on safety and health, and that I have worked with clients not only to abate their problems, the citations that they have received, but also to work with them to enhance their safety and health programs. So I think my----

SENATOR MURRAY: Do you think it should be voluntary, or do you think that we need mandates?

MR. FOULKE: Well, Senator, I think you need both, to tell you the truth. The act itself was set up and had a strong enforcement provision in the act. And so enforcement clearly is a tool that OSHA has to have, utilizing to ensure that workers are protected. But, also, we have to have, I think, the compliance outreach to assist employers to have programs in place, because, really, when you look at it, enforcement in the long run normally deals with after-the-fact when there has been some violation or some problem has occurred.

Our goal should be to prevent any injuries and illnesses in the future, and so I think you work with the enforcement but also have the compliance assistance program to assist in getting those programs in place that we never have that problem.

SENATOR MURRAY: Mr. Chairman, if you will indulge me just one question on asbestos, and I would like to submit my other questions for the record. I have done a great deal of work in the U.S. Senate on trying to ban the production and importation of asbestos in this country and have seen the devastating impacts. As we all know, we are now struggling with how to pay for it. This country still allows the use of asbestos in the industry. Do you think that OSHA should propose a ban on the use of asbestos in the United States?

MR. FOULKE: Well, Senator, I look at it from an OSHA perspective. We do have our asbestos standard in place, and I think that as long as we are assuring that that standard is being enforced, that employees and workers will not be exposed to asbestos.

SENATOR MURRAY: So you think it is okay to have it here as long as we are just watching our workers?

MR. FOULKE: It is my understanding that asbestos was no longer being utilized.

SENATOR MURRAY: Asbestos is being used in this country today.

MR. FOULKE: Well, on that issue, if the Congress was going to be promulgating some type of standard or some type of regulation, I would be happy to work with you on that and provide input.

SENATOR MURRAY: Well, I will submit a number of questions on the record. Asbestos still is imported and used in a number of products in this country, including brakes, and we are trying to deal with the health outcomes of that exposure. And it seems to me the first thing we should do is ban the use of it, and I will submit a number of questions for the record on that issue, and several others, Mr. Chairman.