The Senate on Wednesday narrowly approved President Donald Trump’s selection of a retired coal company executive to oversee U.S. mining safety.
David Zatezalo was confirmed as assistant labor secretary for mine safety and health by a 52-46 vote.
Zatezalo, of West Virginia, retired in 2014 as chairman of Rhino Resources, a coal company cited for repeated safety violations. A miner died at a Rhino mine in West Virginia in 2011.
Zatezalo said at his confirmation hearing last month that safety will be his top priority, noting that he replaced the managers of the mine where the employee died.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., opposed Zatezalo’s confirmation, saying he was not convinced Zatezalo was suited to oversee the federal agency that implements and enforces mine safety laws and standards.
“Too many families in our state have lost loved ones serving our nation in the mines, and we are too familiar with the painful human toll of mining accidents,” Manchin said.
Since the beginning of 2017, 14 miners have died, including seven West Virginians, Manchin said.
“These devastating losses demonstrate the ongoing need for strong and experienced leadership” at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, as well as comprehensive funding for MSHA programs, Manchin said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., supported the nomination, saying that as a former miner and mining executive, Zatezalo “has a keen understanding of the challenges and risks sometimes associated with mining.”
Zatezalo’s “firsthand experience will serve him well in his new role,” McConnell said.
As assistant secretary for mine safety and health, Zatezalo will be responsible for reducing workplace accidents and promoting safe and healthy workplaces for miners.
Zatezalo told a Senate committee last month that the U.S. mining industry is safer than ever and that technology can further improve it. The required four annual mine inspections should not be reduced, he said.
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