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Industry and Incompetence In Charge at Mine Safety Agency

Being qualified and effective at your job apparently seems to be a quaint and outdated notion in the world of political appointments to our federal government. Exhibit A is a floor speech today by Representative Nick Rahall (below) concerning the appointment of John Correll to direct the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement at the Department of Interior. Correll �has been responsible for management of all aspects� of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.  Mine Safety and Health Administration � yes, that Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) which was the focus of public and Congressional ire after it was discovered that the Sago Mine where 14 miners perished had received 208 MSHA citations in the previous year. It�s hard to imagine the family members of mine workers who perished will be happy about this appointment. Particularly since Correll held management positions at Amax Mining and Peabody Coal Co (pdf).


Remarks of U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, II

on the Rule governing

H.R. 5386 - Interior, Environment & Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY07

May 18, 2006

            Mr. Speaker, I rise to address that portion of the pending appropriations bill concerning the Office of Surface Mining and, specifically, the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund.

            The amount made available under this measure to combat the health and safety threats abandoned coal mines pose to coalfield residents is essentially flat-lined from the current fiscal year at $167.8 million.

            I certainly understand the budget constraints we are operating under, yet, I would observe that the unexpended balance in the AML Trust Fund is approaching $2 billion.  It is my hope that as this measure moves into conference, further efforts will be made to increase this particular appropriation.

            With respect to the Office of Surface Mining, I would observe that, yesterday, news emerged of the President�s intention to nominate John R. Correll to serve as the agency�s director.

            I have not met the gentleman, and I look forward to doing so.  But what immediately catches the eye is that since 2002, Mr. Correll served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and was responsible, according to the Administration�s press release yesterday, of all aspects of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

            It is no secret that 26 coal miners have perished this year, a rate that this Nation has not witnessed in recent memory.  It is also no secret that many of these fatalities could have been avoided if MSHA had been doing its job.

            

            Mr. Correll has been part of the leadership at MSHA during a time when the policy floor fell out.  Under his leadership the philosophy at MSHA changed from one of oversight and compliance to one of partnership and complicity.

             Rulemakings were abandoned. Opportunities to improve coal miner safety were closeted away.  And Mr. Correll and others within the Bush Labor Department advocated partnering with industry to address safety concerns, rather than to enforce the law. 

            In fact, in 1998, Mr. Correll testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce�s Subcommittee on Workforce Protection advocating fewer inspections, incentives over penalties, and cooperation over regulation.         

            While other Nations soared ahead in mine safety, incorporating new technologies to ensure and improve protections for their most precious mining resource -- their workers � this Nation, through a cultural shift at MSHA, remained in the dust.  It has been a shameful record that I would loath to see carried over to OSM.   

            The health and safety of the residents in our mining communities should not be gambled on in the way that the health and safety of our mineworkers has been.

            It is time that concern, compassion and correctness take precedence over loyalty in this Administration.

   

            So it is passing strange, to say the least, that the Bush Administration would nominate as OSM Director a person who presided over MSHA during the worst rash of coal miner fatalities in recent times.  One must wonder if this person will bring this same philosophy to overseeing the environmental protection of coalfield citizens.

By: Beth Daley
Director of Investigations, POGO

At the time of publication, Beth Daley was the Director of Investigations for the Project On Government Oversight.

Authors: Beth Daley

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