BY MAX FOLLMER/HUFFINGTON POST The man who will oversee the federal government’s investigation into the disaster that has trapped six workers in a Utah coal mine for over a week was twice rejected for his current job by senators concerned about his own safety record when he managed mines in the private sector. President George W. Bush resorted to a recess appointment in October 2006 to anoint Richard Stickler as the nation’s mine safety czar after it became clear he could not receive enough support even in a GOP-controlled Senate.
In the wake of the January 2006 Sago mine disaster in West Virginia, senators from both sides of the aisle expressed concern that Stickler was not the right person to combat climbing death rates in the nation’s mines. Democrats, led by West Virginia Sens. Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, and Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, questioned the safety record of the mines Stickler ran when he was a coal company executive.
Over the course of his career in the private sector, Stickler managed various mining operations for Bethlehem Steel subsidiary BethEnergy Mines, Inc. The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette reported in January 2006 that three workers died at BethEnergy mines managed by Stickler during the 1980s and 1990s.
Stickler began his career as a general laborer at BethEnergy, eventually rising to manage the company’s operations in Pennsylvania and Boone County, West Virginia. He worked briefly for Massey Energy subsidiary Performance Coal in 1996 and 1997 before becoming head of the Pennsylvania mine safety office. Stickler retired from the post in 2003.
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