Senate Gives MSHA Nominee and Wheeling Resident David Zatezalo Approval

Wheeling’s Zatezalo approved in 52-46 vote

George Dethlefsen, left, CEO of Corsa Coal, speaks with a miner in a coal pit in Friedens, Pa., Wednesday, June 7, 2017. Corsa Coal Corp. says the mine will create 70 to 100 new jobs and produce some 400,000 tons of metallurgical coal a year. President Donald Trump referred to the mine's opening during a speech announcing his intent to withdraw from the Paris climate accords. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)

WHEELING — David Zatezalo says his focus as leader of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration will be to make America “a world leader in mine safety again.”

By a vote of 52-46 along party lines, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday confirmed the Wheeling resident’s nomination to be the next assistant secretary of labor overseeing MSHA. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Rob Portman R-Ohio, voted in favor, while Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio were in opposition.

“I feel relieved, and I’m pleased with the outcome,” Zatezalo said. “As soon as I can get things arranged, I’ll be ready to go. The rough part is done.”

He and his wife, JoLynn, will be relocating to Washington for the job, but also will be maintaining their home in the Woodsdale neighborhood.

“We won’t be leaving Wheeling,” Zatezalo said. “This is our home. We will keep our house here, but we will be there in Washington for however many years it takes.”

He expects to be sworn in to the position “fairly soon after Thanksgiving.”

Manchin has publicly voiced his opposition to Zatezalo’s nomination as leader of MSHA, and has taken issue with Zatezalo’s record at promoting safety while serving as chairman of Rhino Resources in 2011. The company’s Eagle 1 mine in Kentucky was called out by MSHA that year for “a pattern of violations.”

Zatezalo told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee he replaced management at the mine when he became aware of the infractions.

“I kept hoping he would change his mind,” Zatezalo said of Manchin. “You would have to ask him (about his opposition). It’s not for me to say.”

In a statement released Wednesday, Manchin explained his vote against Zatezalo.

“Too many families in our state have lost loved ones serving our nation in the mines and we are too familiar with the painful human toll of mining accidents,” Manchin said. “Since the beginning of 2017, 14 miners have lost their lives — seven of those miners were West Virginians. That is why for West Virginians, strong leadership at MSHA is non-negotiable. These devastating losses demonstrate the ongoing need for strong and experienced leadership at MSHA, as well as comprehensive funding for MSHA’s programs.

“After reviewing Mr. Zatezalo’s 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 and that is why I voted against Mr. Zatezalo’s confirmation to lead MSHA. Although I did not support his nomination, I will strive to work with him to make sure that MSHA protects our miners so they come home safely every night.”

Capito, West Virginia’s junior senator, explained why she voted to confirm Zatezalo.

“Mr. Zatezalo has assured me that his first priority is the safety and health of our nation’s miners,” she said. “As a West Virginian who began his career as a union coal miner, I believe Mr. Zatezalo understands MSHA’s important role. His confirmation hearing made clear that he will continue to rigorously enforce our mine safety laws and will work to expedite the deployment of new technologies that will help make our mines safer. I look forward to working with him in his new role to protect the safety of our miners.”

Zatezalo, a Weirton native, began his 41-year mining career as an underground general laborer at the Blacksville 2 mine in Monongalia County. He later attended West Virginia University and obtained a degree in mining engineering.

After obtaining a master’s degree in business, he moved into senior management roles before retiring as chairman of Rhino Resources in 2014.

Zatezalo told the Senate committee last month he operated 39 different mines in America and Australia during his career.

Today, he believes Australia and South Africa to be at the forefront of mine safety technology.

“Our last two initiatives have come from those countries, but I really think the U.S. should be the leader,” he said.

He said he is not anxious to move to Washington.

“But I am anxious to see what can get done,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think I can take what I can and make things better. If we have to go live there, we will. Worse things can happen, and I can always come back to Wheeling.”

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