Mine safety advocates praise Obama’s choice to lead agency

By Halimah Abdullah | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s choice to head the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration signals a dramatic shift from his predecessor on mine safety issues.

The selection of Joseph Main, the retired longtime safety and health administrator for the United Mine Workers of America to head MSHA, drew praise from safety advocates and criticism from the coal industry.

“I don’t think Obama could have chosen anyone better for the job,” said Tony Oppegard, a Lexington, Ky., lawyer and mine-safety advocate. “Joe has done more for mine safety in the U.S. than anyone in the past 25 to 30 years.”

Oppegard said Main’s nomination “signals a change of direction in terms of mine safety in this country. It’s a 180 degree shift from the policies of the Bush administration and its favoring of coal industry executives.”

Indeed, coal industry executives were disappointed on Monday.

“It’s going to be frustrating having somebody with an agenda that is pro-union,” said Bill Caylor, the president of the Kentucky Coal Association. “We’re not looking forward to it.”

Main, a Pennsylvania native who now lives in Spotsylvania, Va., began working in coal mines in 1967 and quickly became an advocate for miners’ safety as a union safety committeeman. He served in various local union positions in the United Mine Workers of America.

Main is now a mine safety consultant.

Obama also appointed Joseph Pizarchik on Monday to oversee the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. Lexington lawyer Joe Childers also had been under consideration to lead the office.

Pizarchik is director of Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Mining and Reclamation.

Groups that oppose mountaintop removal mining, which involves blasting the tops off mountains to reveal the underlying coal seams, worry that as a career government bureaucrat, Pizarchik might not push for an outright ban on the practice.

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