Republicans Say No to Stickler

Despite having President George W. Bush's support to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration, Richard Stickler's chances of becoming the next MSHA administrator were suspended by GOP leaders after they were not able to cough up sufficient Senate support for his nomination.

The former coal industry executive failed to get the Senate Democrats to warm to him, especially when he stated that the nation's mining laws were adequate, weeks after a series of mining disasters killed 15 people in West Virginia. In addition, many Democrats contended that as a coal executive at Beth Energy Mines and the Pennsylvania's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety, Stickler was much more focused on profits and production rather than on worker safety.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said Stickler's apathy while testifying on his nomination before the Labor Committee did not make Kennedy confident in Stickler's commitment to mine safety.

"The Republican leadership's decision to cancel the vote on the Stickler nomination shows growing consensus that the nation's coal miners and their families deserve much better," said Kennedy.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., was more sympathetic with Stickler, stating that critics were overlooking Stickler's 37 years in the mining industry, a qualification that makes him well suited to head MSHA.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., one of the more outspoken opponents of Stickler in the Senate, withheld Stickler's nomination to see if Stickler would be able to convince other members of the Senate of his commitment to mine safety. He needed to get 60 votes by the Senate for that block to be removed. (See the article "West Virginia Senator Not Sold on Stickler.")

Union groups such as the AFL-CIO and the United Mine Workers of America also were not satisfied with Stickler's nomination. AFL-CIO president John Sweeney sent a statement applauding the Senate's move to scrap Stickler's vote and called on President Bush to withdraw Stickler's nomination.

"While today's developments are promising, it's up to President Bush to honor the 33 miners who have given their lives on the job this year by appointing an advocate to MSHA who will fight for miners and their families," said Sweeney.

Congress recently passed legislation called the Mine Improvement and Emergency Act or MINER Act, which would require mine operators to develop a written emergency response plan, increases civil and criminal penalties and establishes a safety training grant program, among other provisions.

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