Trump Picks Ex-Coal Boss to Head Mine Safety Agency

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By Stephen Lee

The Trump administration plans to name a former mining executive to head the nation’s mine safety agency.

David Zatezalo of Wheeling, W.Va., is now in line to take over the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The longtime coal boss has no government experience. But with the support of President Donald Trump—who railed at length on the campaign trail about overregulation in the mining sector—it’s expected Zatezalo will take a more cooperative, less punitive approach to mine safety than the Obama administration.

In an interview with the Wheeling News-Register Sept. 3, the day after the White House announced the intended nomination, Zatezalo said President Barack Obama’s MSHA “policies were wrong.”

“I think there were too many elitists in the government who really just had no connection to working America,” Zatezalo told the News-Register.

Zatezalo served for 15 years in top management roles at Windsor Coal Co., American Electric Power Co., Hopedale Mining, and Rhino Resources GP, LLC. Prior to that he was a manager at BHP Coal in Australia. He retired from his most recent post as Rhino’s president and chief executive officer in August 2013.

If the Senate confirms Zatezalo, he will replace Wayne Palmer, who has served as the agency’s acting administrator since Aug. 21.

Industry Cheers

Mining industry representatives were quick to hail his selection. Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, said the trade group is “really encouraged by his vast experience in both the U.S. and Australia.”

Zatezalo wasn’t an NMA member, Popovich said, “but we look forward to working with him.”

As a former underground miner and member of the United Mine Workers of America, Zatezalo understands the dangers of working in mining, his cousin Mark Zatezalo, a Republican member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, told Bloomberg BNA.

“He’s very much hands-on,” Mark Zatezalo said. “The guys that go underground are very sensitive about doing anything to jeopardize anybody. Guys that have been down there understand what the dangers are, and I would put him in that category.”

Henry Chajet, an industry-side attorney with Husch Blackwell LLP, told Bloomberg BNA that Zatezalo “has extraordinary mining experience and expertise. I am certain he will continue our safety improvements and help recover lost jobs and opportunities for our mining communities and our nation.”

Problems in West Virginia

MSHA notified Rhino mining in 2010, when Zatezalo was the company’s president, that the agency had found repeated safety violations at one of its mines in West Virginia. The agency threatened to crack down with tougher enforcement.

Rhino improved its safety practices, but quickly ran afoul of MSHA safety standards again, prompting another warning in 2011.

“Those situations should certainly be the subject of senators’ inquires during the nominee’s confirmation hearing,” Celeste Monforton, an MSHA policy analyst under President Bill Clinton, told Bloomberg BNA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

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