As Mining Deaths Rise, MSHA Gets Acting Head — With No Mine Safety Experience

MSHAMSHA has joined OSHA with a new Deputy Assistant Secretary as the agency’s highest official until an Assistant Secretary is nominated and confirmed by the Senate. Wayne Palmer, Labor Secretary Acosta’s Chief of Staff since the end of May, was appointed acting assistant secretary for mine safety and health.

The United Mine Workers union isn’t so happy about the new acting head of the agency.  According to Politico, UMW President Cecil Roberts was troubled by Palmer’s appointment:  “What does he know about float coal dust and its dangers? What does he know about mine inspections and why they are important? What does he know about the need for ventilation, roof control, rock dusting, and a hundred other things that the person in charge of keeping our miners safe and secure needs to know?” Roberts asked in a written statement.

The appointment of someone with absolutely no apparent experience in mine safety and health to this position is troubling, to say the least.” — UMW President Cecil Roberts

Indeed, it is not clear that Palmer has any mining experience (nor was it clear that he had any labor experience before coming over to head the Department’s “beachhead” team after the Inauguration). But Nick Geale, currently DOL Acting Solicitor and Palmer’s replacement as Chief of Staff, told Bloomberg BNA that “He’s from Pennsylvania, and mining is in his family’s background.”

I haven’t checked Palmer’s family tree to see where mining appears in his family’s background, but his mining background doesn’t show up in his resume.  Prior to joining the Trump administration, Palmer was senior manager of congressional relations at the Center for Presidential Transition. He worked on Capitol Hill as chief of staff to Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.),  legislative director to former Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), and he was a pharmaceutical lobbyist. He also ran his own consulting firm, Palmer Public Policy, which “delivered timely and sophisticated policy analysis, legislative forecasting and strategy to nonprofit & business clients—principally the National Association of Manufacturers.”

Being from Pennsylvania did not reassure the UMW’s Roberts, who noted that “fatalities and serious injuries are on the rise again, after having fallen for six consecutive years, the appointment of someone with absolutely no apparent experience in mine safety and health to this position is troubling, to say the least.”

Home Alone

Meanwhile, Geale may want to walk down the hall to consult with OSHA or call NIOSH about the health effects of occupational stress. In addition to being the Secretary’s Chief of Staff (not a small job), he will apparently continue as Acting Solicitor, one of the most challenging jobs in the agency.

Secretary Alex Acosta’s Department of Labor still has only one political appointee confirmed by the Senate: Secretary Alex Acosta.

Palmer will join OSHA’s Loren Sweatt as acting head of a DOL agency until the agencies’ Assistant Secretaries are nominated and confirmed by the Senate. Today, more than 7 months after President Trump’s Inauguration, Secretary Alex Acosta’s Department of Labor still has only one political appointee confirmed by the Senate: Secretary Alex Acosta. The Senate HELP Committee has approved Patrick Pizzella to be the Department’s Deputy Secretary, but the full Senate has not voted to confirm him yet. No other DOL nominations have been announced by the White House.

 

Alex Acosta Department of Labor MSHA

1 Comment

  1. My friend, we’ve both been around long enough to know that placing dilettantes in positions that scream out for technical knowledge and competence is nothing new at the U.S. Labor Department. That’s an unfortunate political phenomenon, that’s been happening for many, many years; in Republican and Democratic administrations alike.

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