Energy & Environment

Sen. Manchin won't vote for Trump's mine safety nominee

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Wednesday said he plans to vote against confirming President Trump's nominee to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

In his statement, Manchin recalled the numerous miner deaths in West Virginia, including 12 so far this year.

Trump tapped David Zatezalo for the job earlier this month. Zatezalo is a retired former executive of Rhino Resources, which had frequent run-ins with MSHA for alleged safety violations during his tenure.

"While I appreciate Mr. Zatezalo's willingness to serve, I cannot support his confirmation to lead MSHA," Manchin said in his statement.

"After reviewing his qualifications and record of safety during his time in the coal industry, I am not convinced that Mr. Zatezalo is suited to oversee the federal agency that implements and enforces mine safety laws and standards."

Manchin has been more supportive of Trump's policies and executive branch nominees than almost any other Democrat, having voted to confirm officials like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt and others that got almost no support outside of the GOP.

Although Manchin supported Democrat Hillary Clinton in last year's election, Trump won West Virginia by the highest margin of any state. Manchin is running for reelection next year in what is expected to be one of the toughest Senate races of the election cycle.

Nonetheless, he said it is important to stand up to Zatezalo.

"I have comforted too many families who have lost loved ones serving our nation in the mines," said Manchin, the Mountain State's former governor. "Strong leadership at the Mine Safety & Health Administration is non-negotiable."

If the Senate were to vote on Zatezalo along party lines, he would get 52 votes, just one more than necessary.

Under Zatezalo's leadership, Rhino received two rare "pattern of violations" letters from MSHA at the same mine, a fine and citation for the death of a miner and a court injunction for allegedly giving workers advanced notice about inspections.

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) sent MSHA a letter Tuesday seeking details about Rhino's record under Zatezalo.

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