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Senate confirms David Zatezalo as MSHA administrator

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Photo: HELP Committee

Washington – David Zatezalo is the new assistant secretary of labor for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, after the Senate confirmed him Nov. 15 in a 52-46 vote.

Zatezalo spent more than 40 years in the mining industry and most recently was chairman of Lexington, KY-based Rhino Resources GP LLC, retiring in 2014. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) pointed out that experience when touting Zatezalo’s nomination.

“Mr. Zatezalo is uniquely qualified to lead the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration because he knows the industry inside and out,” Alexander said, citing Zatezalo’s time as a miner, union member, general superintendent and general manager.

Rhino, however, experienced a number of safety issues during Zatezalo’s tenure with the company. Rhino Eastern’s Eagle No. 1 Mine in the new MSHA leader’s home state of West Virginia was given Potential Pattern of Violations notices in 2010 and 2011. According to a MSHA letter to Eagle No. 1’s safety director in August 2011, the second PPOV notice was issued because the agency “determined that the mine is not making a good faith effort to eliminate violations and has reverted back to PPOV status.”

According to goodjobsfirst.org’s violation tracker, Rhino mines have been issued nearly $2.1 million in fines for 160 workplace safety or health violations since the beginning of 2005.

“It is so critical, absolutely critical, that the MSHA administrator is committed to standing up for our miners,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said a day before Zatezalo’s confirmation. “But instead of nominating an advocate for workers’ health and safety, President Trump nominated one of the industry’s worst offenders.”

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Oct. 4, Zatezalo said, “I was not proud of the fact that we got designated as a PPOV mine. I did not try to lawyer up and stop anything from happening. I felt that if you haven’t done your job, then we should be big kids and deal with it as such. Incidentally, I replaced that management because I wasn’t too happy with their performance.”

Zatezalo also said he wouldn’t have a problem working with, potentially, some of the MSHA staff that handed out fines and citations to his company. “They did what they were supposed to do,” he said.

Wayne Palmer had been the acting assistant secretary since Aug. 21.

Zatezalo takes over at a time when coal mining fatalities have reached their highest mark (14) since 2014.

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