Bush Reappoints Mine Safety Chief Who Bungled Crandall Canyon Disaster

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) came under severe criticism for its mismanagement of August’s Crandall Canyon mine collapse in Utah. Nine men died, including six trapped after the initial cave-in and three rescue workers. Many safety experts questioned why the MSHA allowed “anyone, including rescuers, into the still-dangerous mine.”

Overseeing the effort as head of MSHA was Richard Stickler, a former Murray Beth Energy executive. The Senate had twice rejected his nomination because the mines he managed “incurred injury rates double the national average.” Stickler had also stated that he believed no new laws or regulations were needed for mine safety.

Stickler’s term as assistant secretary expired on Dec. 31. His bio was quickly removed from the MSHA website earlier this week, and on Thursday, MSHA officials revealed that they had a new chief:

[O]n Thursday, MSHA officials revealed that agency staffer John Pallasch had been named to Stickler’s job — assistant labor secretary for mine safety and health — on an acting basis. Pallasch took over on Jan. 1. […]

But it’s not clear how long Pallasch will be running the $340 million agency or if President Bush plans to submit a different nominee to Congress.

Pallasch’s 15 minutes of fame lasted just three days. The Bush administration was evidently so happy with Stickler’s job performance that President Bush yesterday renamed him as acting assistant secretary. From the White House personnel announcement:

The President intends to designate Richard Stickler, of West Virginia, to be Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health.

Stickler’s bio has also reappeared on the MSHA site. With his acting title, he will be able to serve 210 days. The White House has also renominated him for the permanent position.


As The New York Times recently noted, Bush “has left whole agencies of the executive branch to be run largely by acting or interim appointees,” who have not been approved by the Senate. The Senate has repeatedly had to convene pro forma sessions in order to prevent Bush from giving these controversial nominees recess appointments.

UPDATE: Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) issued a statement on Stickler’s appointment:

The White House has again gone behind the Senate’s back to install Mr. Stickler as head of the agency that is supposed to protect our nation’s miners. After almost a year and a half of Mr. Stickler’s stewardship, MSHA remains an agency in crisis and in need of strong leadership. I urge the President to send us a nominee who will give our brave miners and their families the kind of effective safety enforcement they deserve.