Saturday, June 24, 2006

Another Health Rule Boggs Down?

Worth taking time to read this week is another piece in Jordan Barab's Confined Space. (How is this guy so productive? And he has a full-time job.)

Read down to June 20:

"Industry Pushes Chemical Gag Rule To Keep Information From Workers and the Public"

The gist: "It's war!" against the Department of Labor, declares Representative Charlie Norwood (R-GA) in a hearing on OSHA's use of consensus health standards. OSHA requires employers to inform workers about these in its HazCom rule.

MSHA Metal and Nonmetal health regs have long incorporated consensus health standards published in the 1973 edition of the Threshold Limit Values developed by the American Conference of Government Industrial Hygienists.

Reportedly, Henry Chajet of Washington law firm Patton and Boggs told Norwood that OSHA, MSHA and the Department of Energy are "abrogating their duties through an insidious delegation of government authority that denies our fellow citizens the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the protection of the laws enacted by the Congress."

But do read the whole Confined Space piece.

Patton and Boggs is a legal and lobbying firm that describes itself as follows:

Patton Boggs was among the first national law firms to recognize that all three branches of government could serve as forums in which to achieve client goals. For more than 40 years, we have maintained a reputation for cutting-edge advocacy by working closely with Congress and regulatory agencies in Washington, litigating in courts across the country, and negotiating business transactions around the world....

We think laterally at the threshold: What venue, or combination of venues, would best serve our clients’ goals?...Our projects frequently involve novel and complex policy questions, and our clients come to us knowing that we won’t stop with the law books in looking for the best solution.

Mr. Chajet has had a highly successful practice in the mining industry as his curriculum vitae indicates.

For instance:

For ten years, he has served as counsel to a coalition of diesel engine users who conduct health effects research in conjunction with government agencies and participate in diesel-related regulatory matters.

As to that, to reprise (partly) an entry in this blog from last February:

The coal mining sector accepted underground diesel emissions exposure limits without contesting them, several years ago.

The rules for non-coal mines were first proposed in 1998 and became final [after extensive industry participation]right at the end of the Clinton administration in January 2001. But industry complaints then led MSHA to delay the compliance schedule and reopen the rule. A key opponent has been the Mining Awareness Resource Group (MARG) Diesel Coalition, spearheaded by veteran mining industry attorney Chajet.

According to [Washington Post reporter] Cindy Skrzycki, Chajet has referred to the rule as a
"giant failed high school science project,"
despite extensive health and feasibility studies.

This month, former MSHA special assistant Celeste Monforton published a knock-down-drag-out narrative of the metal/nonmetal diesel rule's contorted course in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Public Health. (Abstract is here.)

On a Lighter Note

From the June 15 Long Beach, Calif., Press-Telegram:

MONTCLAIR—A homeowner digging for gold in his front yard said he got “carried away” and ended up with a 60-foot-deep hole, authorities said.

Henry Mora, 63, began digging 10 days ago after his gold detector reported a positive hit near his front patio. He told authorities he intended to go down only three or four feet....

But the metal detector kept luring him on....and on....

Fire officials called to the scene Tuesday found two men that Mora hired inside the hole, using a bucket and rope to remove dirt.

“We told him, You're done,'” said Montclair fire Capt. Rich Baldwin. “It's amazing no one got killed.”

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Stuck It To Stickler?

Jordan Barab at Confined Space just barely skated past the pun:

VICTORY: Senate Sticks It To Bush Mine Safety Nominee
The days of being able to freely appoint industry hacks to important government positions may be drawing to a close for the Bush administration.

Facing certain defeat in a vote to close off debate, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist cancelled a scheduled vote this afternoon on the nomination of Richard Stickler to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) opposed Frist's motion to cancel the vote and demanded that the vote take place unless he was assured that the Bush Administration would not recess appoint Stickler. After consulting with the White House, Frist agreed that if Bush were to move to recess appoint Stickler, that a Senate vote in would occur first. (The President is allowed to "recess appoint" nominees when the Senate is out of session. Bush has used this tactic numerious times to appoint controversial nominees who can't get Senate approval.)

Kennedy issued a statement calling on Bush to "reconsider and to nominate someone to this crucial position who is a proven champion for mine workers’ safety.”

See the link for the rest of the story.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A New Deal for Miners

Six months after the Sago mine explosion, we have the first major mine safety legislation to be enacted since 1977. Widely covered, of course, for example in the New York Times:

Stiff Overhaul of Mine Safety Rules Passes Congress

WASHINGTON, June 7 — Responding to a spate of accidents that have killed 33 coal miners this year, the House gave final approval Wednesday to the most sweeping overhaul of mine safety regulations since the federal mine safety agency was created nearly three decades ago.

The measure, approved by a 381-to-37 vote, requires mine operators to provide a second hour's worth of air for miners along escape routes (they now carry one hour's worth). They will also have to provide communication and tracking devices for miners within three years. The maximum civil penalty for violations of mine-safety regulations will rise to $220,000, from $60,000.

Not everyone got all they wanted, but it's a step in the right direction.

I hear the bill is expected to be signed tomorrow. Details about the legislation, including full text, here.

Word was that the Senate would vote this afternoon on nominee Richard M. Stickler for assistant secetary of MSHA, Senator Byrd having removed his "hold" on the nomination. Haven't heard results yet. Speculation: deal was made with White House to allow quick passage of bill in exchange for allowing Stickler appointment to go ahead.