WASHINGTON – President Bush appointed an embattled nominee to head the agency in charge of miners' safety Thursday over the opposition of the United Mine Workers of America and Senate Democrats.
Congress is in recess, which means the president can appoint Richard Stickler to the job without Senate approval. The appointment is expected to last about a year, until the end of the next session of Congress.
Stickler, of Terra Alta, W. Va., will head the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which has been without an agency head for two years. The mine agency is part of the Labor Department.
Bush nominated Stickler last year, but Senate Democrats blocked his nomination.
The lawmakers and the UMW said Stickler spent too many years as a mining executive and failed to demonstrate adequate concern for safety problems in the mining industry. In addition to working in the mining industry, Stickler headed Pennsylvania's mine safety office from 1997-2003.
"I think my track record in Pennsylvania proves that I did not go easy on mine operators," Stickler said in a conference call to reporters.
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao applauded the recess appointment.
"Richard has extensive experience in mining and protecting miners' lives that he will use to strengthen enforcement of mine safety laws and help ensure the safety and health of miners nationwide," Chao said in a statement.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the top Democrat on the committee that oversees labor issues, had a different view.
"The administration knows that Mr. Stickler could not pass the Senate because of his poor safety record, but they chose to put the interests of the industry ahead of the safety of the miners and installed him in the job anyway," Kennedy said in a statement.
In June, Bush signed into law new protections for miners following a string of accidents in Appalachia, including a January accident that killed a dozen miners in West Virginia.
The new law, the first of its kind since 1977, requires miners to have two hours' worth of oxygen on hand while they work, rather than one. Mine operators also — within three years — must store additional oxygen supplies underground and must put new communications equipment and devices to track lost miners in mines.