The ranking Democrat on the House committee that oversees worker safety issues is calling for close scrutiny of President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., questioned the record of Trump nominee David Zatezalo and said in a prepared statement that the nation’s coal miners “deserve leadership in MSHA who have a demonstrated record of leading by example.”
“There is abundant data which suggests that the nominee for Assistant Secretary of MSHA has repeatedly failed to abide by basic mine safety standards, and neglected to adequately protect the health and safety of miners for whom he was responsible,” said Scott, the ranking minority member on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. “This nominee merits careful scrutiny, as there are substantial questions about his suitability for this important position.”
Zatezalo, 62, of Wheeling, had retired in late 2014 as chairman of Rhino Resources after serving in various top posts at Rhino, including president and chief executive officer and chief operating officer. His nomination to the MSHA post needs Senate confirmation.
In 2010 and 2011, while Zatezalo was a top Rhino executive, the company had a series of run-ins with MSHA over safety and health conditions at mines in West Virginia and Kentucky, during a period when then-MSHA chief Joe Main was ramping up agency enforcement following the deaths of 29 miners at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in April 2010.
One of Rhino’s mines received back-to-back warning letters from MSHA about a “pattern of violations” at the operation and another Rhino mine was targeted by a rare MSHA lawsuit after agency staffers said they caught officials there providing advance notice of an MSHA inspection to workers underground.
In an interview Tuesday, Zatezalo decline to discuss those events at Rhino in any detail, saying “I won’t speak to it except to say that any problems that existed at Rhino were properly addressed.”
The White House announced Zatezalo’s nomination on Saturday, putting his name last on an alphabetic list of several dozen administration appointments released during the three-day Labor Day weekend.
A spokesman for Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said that Manchin “will continue to review David Zatezalo’s record” and “looks forward to meeting with him to emphasize the critical importance of increasing safety standards for every West Virginia miner.”
“Strong leadership at MSHA is a must,” the Manchin spokeman, Jonathan Kott, said.
Ashley Berrang, a spokeswoman for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said that Capito “looks forward to meeting with David Zatezalo, and discussing his vision for MSHA and the importance of the health and safety of our miners.”
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.