President Joe Biden has nominated a Mingo County native and former aide to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to lead the country’s mine safety agency.
Biden has tapped Christopher J. Williamson to be assistant secretary for mine safety and health at the Department of Labor.
Williamson is slated to lead the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration after stints with that agency, the National Labor Relations Board, and Manchin’s legislative team.
The Dingess native currently serves as senior counsel to the National Labor Relations Board Chairman Lauren McFerran. Williamson previously served as a member of the Mine Safety and Health Administration senior leadership team in the Obama administration, advising the agency’s assistant secretary on agency policy and operations.
Prior to his Mine Safety and Health Administration service, Williamson worked in the Senate as labor counsel to then-Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and as legislative assistant to Manchin.
Williamson advised Harkin and committee members on labor, occupational and mine safety and health, black lung benefits and other workers’ compensation issues.
Williamson was Manchin’s chief policy advisor on labor, mine safety and health issues, also advising him on energy and environmental policy.
The White House announced Williamson’s appointment Friday.
United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil E. Roberts applauded the appointment in a statement Friday, calling him an “excellent choice” and urging the Senate to confirm his nomination as soon as possible.
“Chris Williamson is the most knowledgeable expert on mine safety and health in Washington today,” Roberts said. “His in-depth understanding of what it takes to keep miners safer and healthier at work is unmatched, and I expect that the Mine Safety and Health Administration will be a stronger advocate for miners under his watch.”
Mine safety advocates have lamented the lack of a permanent MSHA head in the first 10 months of Biden’s presidency.
Former Mine Safety and Health Administration Assistant Secretary David Zatezalo, a former coal industry executive and Weirton native, was confirmed by the Senate to serve in that role in November 2017 after his nomination by then-President Donald Trump two months earlier.
The MSHA has faced criticism from union representatives and other mine safety proponents under the Trump and Biden administrations for not issuing an enforceable standard requiring mine operators to comply with coronavirus prevention guidance or reducing the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica, a potentially life-threatening carcinogen and contributing cause of black lung disease.
A U.S. Department of Labor spokesman said earlier this year that the MSHA intends to issue a proposed rule to address miners’ exposure to respirable crystalline silica.
But the MSHA has spent more than two decades in rulemaking without changing its silica exposure limit, starting and restarting rulemaking efforts for silica regulations at least five times, in 1996, 1998, 2003, 2010 and 2014.
Williamson lives with his wife and children in Crofton, Maryland.