Manchin opposing Trump’s nominee

WHEELING — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin announced Wednesday he will oppose the nomination of Wheeling resident David Zatezalo to lead the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The statement by Manchin, D-W.Va., came after members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last week sent a letter to Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta voicing concerns about Zatezalo’s past record on safety when he served as an executive with the Rhino Resource Partners coal company.

MSHA is an agency within the U.S. Department of Labor.

“In West Virginia, we are painfully familiar with the human toll that accompanies a mine accident,” Manchin said in a released statement. “I have comforted too many families who have lost loved ones serving our nation in the mines. Strong leadership at the Mine Safety and Health Administration is non-negotiable.”

Manchin noted that 12 coal miners, including six West Virginians, have died in accidents on the job since the beginning of 2017.

“These tragic losses directly illustrate the ongoing need for strong and experienced leadership at MSHA, as well as comprehensive funding for MSHA’s programs,” Manchin said. “While I appreciate Mr. Zatezalo’s willingness to serve, I cannot support his confirmation to lead MSHA. After reviewing his qualifications and record of safety during his time in the coal industry, I am not convinced that Mr. Zatezalo is suited to oversee the federal agency that implements and enforces mine safety laws and standards.”

Manchin’s office did not provide additional comment when contacted, and Zatezalo did not immediately return messages left at his home on Wednesday.

Others also were mum on the issue regarding Zatezalo’s nomination.

Murray Energy Chairman and CEO Robert Murray had been among those pushing for Zatezalo to take the position. On Wednesday, Murray Energy spokesman Gary Broadbent said the company had “no comment” pertaining to Manchin’s non-support of Zatezalo.

And Ashley Berrang, spokeswoman for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said only the senator “looks forward” to watching Zatezalo’s confirmation hearing before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Zatezalo, who is the cousin of West Virginia Delegate Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock, grew up in Weirton and after high school entered the coal mines as a union laborer. He earned a mining engineering degree from West Virginia University in 1977, and later earned an MBA from Ohio University in Athens.

He later became a mine foreman and subsequently general superintendent for Southern Ohio Coal Co. He then went to Australia, where he worked for Broken Hill Proprietary as a general mine manager. In 1998 he returned to the United States, taking the post of general manager of the former Windsor Coal Co. in Beech Bottom during the operation’s phase-down stage.

After Windsor Coal closed, Zatezalo served as vice president of operations of American Electric Power’s Appalachian mining operations in eastern Kentucky. He then took a position as president of Hopedale Mining to develop a new mine near Cadiz, Ohio, before returning to Kentucky to head the Lexington-based Rhino Resources until his retirement in 2014.

The letter signed by committee members Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Robert Casey, D-Pa., states that Zatezalo served in senior management positions at Rhino Resource Partners from 2007 to 2014, and was vice president of mining operations for AEP Energy Services from 2001 to 2004,

The senators seek documents and communications related to investigations of incidents at Rhino’s Eagle 1 mine in Bolt, and at subsidiary CAM Mining in Pikesville, Kentucky.

Also referenced is the investigation of a Nov. 8, 2001 fatal blasting accident that occurred at the Cadiz portal of the Nelms Mine owned by AEP Ohio Coal.

Hearings “to examine the nominations” of Zatezalo and others before the committee are set for 3 p.m. Oct. 4. The senators have requested this information be provided to them by Friday to “help facilitate review of documents” prior to any confirmation hearing for Zatezalo.