Whitesburg KY

Stickler is best for time being

It’s understandable that Sen. Robert C. Byrd and Sen. Ted Kennedy are unwilling to confirm Richard Stickler as head of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. But we think he’s the best that America is likely to get from the Bush administration, thus he’s the best guardian of coal miners.

Naturally, the senators have misgivings about Stickler, a Fairmont native who spent most of his career working for coal companies and then served as director of Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Deep Mine Safety. He was named acting head of MSHA late in 2006, the deadliest year in American coal mines in more than a decade.

In September, Stickler mishandled legitimate questions from Congress about the permitting of activities at the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah, where six miners and three rescuers died.

But Stickler has acknowledged the need for MSHA to crack down on safety violators. He has said that safety policies start at the top of an organization. He inherited a demoralized and understaffed agency, suffering under years of cuts by the Bush administration. Given a chance, he might actually improve the agency’s performance and conditions for miners.

He certainly made an impression in Pennsylvania, where the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette praised his work on mine safety.

No better prospect is in sight. President Bush is unlikely to offer a better nominee, if he bothered with one at all. In a year, there will be a new president, and the whole process of appointing people to hundreds of jobs will begin again. Mine safety will be just one of many posts demanding attention.

In the meantime, miners’ safety would be better served by having someone firmly and unquestionably in charge of that agency.

Stickler has not had time to fix the damage inflicted on MSHA during the past seven years. He has new mandates and new funding from Congress to carry out some improvements. It would be a better use of everyone’s time to give him the chance to do so.

– The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette-Mail

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