Senate Committee Gives Nod to OSHA, MSHA Nominees

President Bush's nominees to lead the nation's occupational and mine safety agencies are one step closer to assuming their positions.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee the committee with oversight on workplace safety voted in favor of Edwin Foulke as assistant secretary of labor for OSHA and Richard Stickler as assistant secretary of labor for the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Both nominations now must go to the full Senate for consideration.

Foulke, who chaired the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission from 1990 to 1994, is a partner and OSHA practitioner with Jackson Lewis LLP in Greenville, S.C., a national law firm that specializes in the defense of management in cases involving labor and employment law.

Stickler served as director of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety. Earlier in his career, he worked for Beth Energy Mines Inc. for 30 years in a number of positions.

Sen. Michael Enzi R-Wyo., chairman of the HELP Committee, applauded Foulke as "an excellent candidate who has demonstrated his knowledge and capabilities to oversee OSHA."

"He has worked with businesses, employees and labor groups to ensure that worker safety is on the top of every business' agenda," Enzi said. "He understands that government red tape is no substitute for good policy to better protect workers from injuries and death on the job."

Foulke's approval was no surprise to observers such as Arthur Sapper, a member of the OSHA Practice Group of the law firm of McDermott, Will & Emery.

"He is completely uncontroversial, well-qualified for the position and faces no opposition," Sapper said.

Stickler Critics Not Happy

While Enzi lauded Stickler for his "unique perspective" as someone who "started his career as a miner and worked his way up," all eight Democrats on the committee voted against Stickler's nomination.

During a Jan. 31 hearing, Stickler came under close examination and was pressed to promise swift action on suggested safety reforms. Coming in the wake of recent mining fatalities in West Virginia, Kentucky and Utah, these suggestions included improved communications devices and rescue chambers equipped with oxygen, food and water located along escape routes.

United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts said that the HELP Committee's vote for Stickler was a "huge disappointment for all miners in America who are looking to their government to stand up for them instead of the coal companies."

"Since 2001, the coal operators have been in charge at MSHA," Roberts said, referring to Dave Lauriski, a coal company executive who was the Bush administration's first appointment to head MSHA. "Mr. Stickler would just be another fox guarding the henhouse."

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney also has expressed dissatisfaction with Stickler's nomination. In a letter sent to the HELP Committee on Feb 13, Sweeney pointed out that although Sticker had been in the mining industry for a long time, "his only experience with public enforcement of health and safety standards was marked by repeated attempts to limit regulations and reduce health and safety protections for miners in Pennsylvania."

OSHRC Commissioner Vote on Hold

While the nominations for the top spots at OSHA and MSHA moved forward this week, the review commission will have to hold out a bit longer without a commissioner.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., requested additional time to consider the nomination of Horace "Topper" Thompson, as he had additional questions, according to a HELP committee spokesperson.

A date for a committee vote will be decided after March 15.

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