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Coal Week

Oklahoma man is minding our mines - for now


MICHAEL DAVIS

MICHAEL DAVIS

McALESTER, Okla.

The administrative transition in Washington, D.C., isn’t just happening at the White House. It’s happening at federal agencies all over the nation’s capital, which is how McAlester, Oklahoma’s Michael Davis found himself running the country’s Mine Safety and Health Administration. For now.

The 1973 McAlester High School graduate had been named deputy assistant secretary for operations for the Department of Labor’s MSHA office back in November. When Bush appointee Richard Stickler left the director’s post at MSHA, that left Davis as the most senior civil servant on the job.

“I’ve just hit my 21st year with MSHA,” Davis said from the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “I’m a career person, I’m not a political appointee. So my job and my core duties lie only with MSHA.”

He considers that to be an important task. A fourthgeneration coal miner, his family moved to McAlester from West Virginia in the late 1960s. He grew up around coal mining, and even spent about 13 years in underground mines all over the country before going to work for MSHA.

“He worked for several large coal companies underground, the heart of mining,” said his brother, Ed Davis, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “He knew the rules and regulations of the government and always felt they were in place to protect the miners and the industry.”

Michael Davis’ coalmining career included work in Colorado, Kentucky, Illinois and West Virginia, as well as in Oklahoma. He worked a mine at Bache at one point. “There was also a small strip mine off (highway) 31 East I worked a short time,” Davis said.

Eventually, Davis followed his father’s footsteps out of the mines and into mine safety, going to work for MSHA in 1989 as a metal/nonmetal inspector. Metal/non-metal mines, Davis explained, are defined as those for any mineral other than coal, such as gravel, limestone or sand.

The Davises’ father, Clyde, worked for the mine safety agency for nearly 30 years, retiring from the McAlester office in 1993.

“We come from a long line of coal miners going back at least 80 plus years,” Ed Davis said. “We brothers and our parents were born in West Virginia and were raised in what was known as ‘coal camps.’ We grew up there, being children and grandchildren and greatgrandchildren of coal miners. We remain proud of our heritage.”

Michael Davis is also proud of the work MSHA does at nearly 15,000 mines across the country. Recently, the agency achieved 100 percent completion of mandated inspections at each mine, a first in nearly 30 years.

“That’s somewhat his- toric,” he said. “We are required to be at those mine sites and do those inspections.”

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, which created MSHA from the Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration (MESA) and other agencies, directs that the agency conduct annual inspections at each mine every year: four times for underground mines, and two for surface mines. “We believe it is significant to have that on site presence and we feel that is why our performance has served the industry as it has,” Davis said.

He attended the University of Oklahoma after graduating from McAlester High School, and later attended Northeastern State University.

Once a secretary for the Department of Labor is confirmed, directors will be named for the various Labor agencies, including MSHA. Serving with each of those directors will be two deputy directors, one a “career” or civil employee, the other a political employee, according to Amy Louviere, public affairs director at MSHA. Presently, that career deputy director’s job is held by Davis, and that’s the job he’d like to keep.

Meanwhile, “this agency still has to run and still has to be maintained, and we’re doing that,” Davis said.

Distributed by The Associated Press

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