Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., criticized the Bush administration for selecting a candidate with a "weak safety record" and claimed that the White House was "playing political games with mine safety."
"Last month, the Senate took a stand for mine safety by sending back to the White House an unacceptable nomination to lead MSHA, and we are as resolute in our stand today," Byrd said. "We're again sending a message to the administration that America's miners deserve better, and we hope that this time it will listen."
Byrd and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the leading Democratic member of the Senate mine safety oversight committee, have led the efforts to reject the Stickler nomination.
"We are in the midst of a mine safety crisis - 58 miners have already died this year, more than any year since 2002," Kennedy said. "At this critical time, miners and their families need a strong leader at MSHA. Mr. Stickler does not have the record or the vision to meet this challenge.
"The president should send the Senate a new nominee who will fulfill the promise of our safety laws."
Byrd: Stickler Placed Production Above Safety
Byrd noted that while Congress has created new mine safety laws aimed to protect miners - most notably the MINER Act, passed earlier this year by wide margins in the House and Senate - the new safety measures could mean little if the agency responsible for implementing them places increased production above better safety protections.
Byrd has assailed Stickler - a former coal executive and the former director of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety - for having a track record that emphasizes a commitment to production and profits ahead of safety.
Byrd originally placed a legislative hold on Stickler's nomination in March, relying on Senate Rule 31, which states that whenever the Senate adjourns for more than 30 days, all pending nominations pending are rejected and returned to the president. (See "West Virginia Senator not sold on Stickler.")
In early September, President George W. Bush renominated Stickler, but since the nomination has been turned back to him, Bush will have to either renominate Stickler yet again or nominate a different individual.
The Bush administration also can use its constitutional authority to appoint either Sticker or anyone else to the post while the Senate is in recess during October and early November.
Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, said it would be "irresponsible and insulting" for the Bush administration to give Stickler a recess appointment.
"President Bush has an opportunity now to send a bold message to coal miners throughout America that he truly does care about them and their safety by appointing someone with a strong background and a demonstrable record of working to improve mine safety and health," Roberts said. "Now is not the time for yet another industry hack to be in charge at MSHA."