President Trump has nominated a retired coal company executive to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). The White House announced that David G. Zatezalo, the former chairman of Rhino Resources, would be the next Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health. Zatezalo’s nomination must be confirmed by the United States Senate. There was no immediate indication of when that confirmation vote might happen.

Zatezalo has wide-ranging experience in the coal industry. He began his career as a union miner in West Virginia and since then has held positions at a number of companies as shift foreman, engineering superintendent, mine manager, vice-president of operations and, finally, chief executive officer. According to the resume released by the White House, Zatezalo has worked for a variety of companies in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Colorado, Utah, and Australia. In addition to Rhino Resources, the companies he has served include CONSOL, AEP Energy Services, Windsor Coal, and Southern Ohio Coal Company.

Zatezalo has a degree in mining engineering from West Virginia University and is a registered professional engineer in Ohio and West Virginia. He also has an MBA from Ohio University. He is the past chairman of the Kentucky Coal Association and the Ohio Coal Association.

The workings of MSHA will not be a mystery to the new nominee. Over the years, Zatezalo’s companies have had experience with MSHA enforcement actions and he is certainly familiar with the challenges that operators face in those situations. He will be taking over an agency that is confronted with a number of key issues. These include:

  • whether to maintain or withdraw the agency’s current pattern of violations rule;
  • whether and when to restart the crystalline silica rulemaking process;
  • how to address industry concerns regarding inspection and inspector consistency;
  • how to address conflicts between headquarters and district offices regarding area guarding;
  • whether to reformulate and repurpose the Small Mines Office;
  • how to review and revise the application of old regulations in light of new technologies; and 
  • what steps to take regarding the status of the pending Final Rule on Examinations of Working Places in Metal and Nonmetal Mines.

There will be strong encouragement from a number of quarters in the mining community with respect to all of these issues. The new assistant secretary of labor will be busy.


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New York City, NY, USA - October 11, 2017: American flag flapping in front of corporate office building in Lower Manhattan
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