W.Va. Connection

Zatezalo nominated for top mine position

Assuming the U.S. Senate agrees, a Wheeling man will become the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. That could be a very good thing, because the local man, David Zatezalo, has bottom-to-top experience in the coal industry.

Zatezalo has been nominated to serve as assistant secretary of labor, in charge of the MSHA. For him to take office, the Senate must vote to confirm him.

It is to be expected that some senators may object to Zatezalo because of his career.

His experience in mining began as a laborer and member of the United Mine Workers union. He moved steadily up, becoming chief executive officer of a coal company before retiring.

Zatezalo is coming out of retirement at the urging of people in the industry who asked him to apply for the Labor Department post. Clearly, they want someone in charge of the MSHA who understands the mining industry.

Too many of those making and administering policy in Washington are more comfortable with the world of the bureaucracy than with the people, organizations and companies they regulate. As Zatezalo put it in an interview with us, “there were too many elitists in the government who really had no connection to working America.”

It is both unfortunate and sad that a substantial number of senators share those traits. They can be expected to oppose Zatezalo. So can some Democrats who will criticize him solely because he is being nominated by a Republican president.

Senators should vote for Zatezalo because he is a veteran of the industry, not a career bureaucrat. For the American economy to prosper, the country needs more people like him in government.

Just as important, Congress needs to give Zatezalo the support he will need if he is to be successful in reforming the culture at the MSHA. The bureaucrats will fight him tooth and nail, with every tool at their disposal. As the rules are written now, they will have an advantage in that regard.

Zatezalo has a record of concern for safety in the mines, as well as for making the operations he has overseen successful. Ensuring the MSHA is focused on safety — not just on flexing its bureaucratic muscles — will be a boon to both miners and companies strangled by Washington red tape.

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