Senate confirms Trump’s mine safety pick

Senate confirms Trump’s mine safety pick
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The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm David Zatezalo, a former coal mining executive who faced harsh criticism over his company’s safety record, to lead the federal government’s mine safety agency.

The vote was 52 to 46, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed.

Once he’s sworn in to lead the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), Zatezalo will be responsible for safety across all of the nation’s mines, including those for coal, metals and other substances.

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Zatezalo, a West Virginia native, retired in 2014 as head of Rhino Resources, a coal mining company. Rhino had numerous run-ins with MSHA enforces under his leadership, including two “pattern of violations” letters, a rare warning from regulators.

At his confirmation hearing, Zatezalo said he wasn’t proud of Rhino’s safety record.

“I did not try to lawyer up and stop anything from happening. I felt if you haven’t done your job we should be big kids and deal with it as such,” he said.

Democrats cited that safety record in voting against him. Among them was Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Wealthy outsiders threaten to shake up GOP Senate primaries MORE (D-W.Va.), who has supported many of President Trump’s nominees as he faces a tough reelection battle next year.

“It is disappointing to me that President Trump nominated one of the industry's worst health and safety offenders to lead this critical agency,” Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats turn on Al Franken VA slashes program that helps homeless veterans obtain housing: report The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Wash.), top Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said on the Senate floor before the Zatezalo vote.

“This is another move in a long list of decisions by President Trump that jeopardizes workers' health, safety and financial security in order to prioritize corporations and special interests.”

Republicans were happy with Zatezalo, and welcomed him as someone with with the experience and knowledge needed to enforce safety laws without being too heavy-handed.

“He knows about various levels of the business, which will be an important asset as he works with operators, miners and inspectors to ensure that mining operations are safe for our nation’s mineworkers,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters MORE (R-Ky.) said.

“Having begun his career as a coal miner himself, and having later managed and operated a number of mines, Mr. Zatezalo has a keen understanding of the challenges and risks sometimes associated with mining, and this firsthand experience will serve him well in his new role.”