Sunday, November 12, 2006

Future Minority Leader Married to MSHA's Boss

Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao's husband, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is now poised to become the Republican Minority Leader, AP reports.

Chao, of course, oversees both MSHA and OSHA.

According to the wire service,

McConnell was best known until recently for blocking new limits on campaign donations, an effort that gained him a reputation as Darth Vader to his rivals. That success ended in 2002 when Congress passed a campaign finance bill.

John Cheves had a long article last month in the Lexington Herald-Leader on the working partnership between McConnell and Chao.

He revisited a notorious incident in which, it is claimed, a prominent mine operator tried to intimidate MSHA officials by trumpeting his relationship with McConnell.

"Mitch McConnell calls me one of the five finest men in America, and the last I checked, he was sleeping with your boss," according to notes of the meeting. "They," Murray added, pointing at two MSHA men, "are gone."

The article noted:

Murray, a large man with a fierce temper, is a huge donor to Republican senators. McConnell, R-Ky., rose through the ranks by raising money for those senators.

However,

Murray, in a recent interview, denied that he referred to McConnell "sleeping with" Chao.....

"After what he apparently said about me, he wouldn't make my list [of the five finest men]," McConnell said....

Murray, chief executive of Murray Energy, acknowledged in a recent interview that he loudly complained about MSHA manager Thompson at the meeting. Thompson harassed his mines for no reason and even shut down operations in one for hours, he said.
He said it's possible he mentioned his friend McConnell. His company's political-action committee has given about $360,000 in campaign donations since 2000, nearly all to Republicans, including McConnell. Murray personally has given about $100,000.
"I have no idea why I would have brought up Sen. McConnell, but I can tell you I have a tremendous respect for what he does," Murray said. Regarding Thompson's transfer, Murray added: "I said he should be removed. But they didn't do it because I said so"....

After the Murray incident was reported in various publications, Thompson said he was angry that his name had been released, and scared that McConnell would be mad at him. So, he said, he sent a polite letter this year to McConnell to make it clear that he didn't blame the senator or his wife for his problems. He has never been given a reason for his transfer, he said.


Apart from that incident,

Some MSHA officials talk of being pressured to go soft even when they uncover serious problems.

In April, MSHA inspector Danny Woods told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that colleagues wanted to shut down part of a Massey coal mine in West Virginia in January because spilled coal and dust had accumulated along a belt line, raising the risk of a fire. The request was denied. Woods said inspectors were told "to back off and let them run coal, that there was too much demand for coal."

Days later, on Jan. 19, a fire in that part of the mine killed two miners. MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere recently said MSHA is investigating Woods' allegation, so she cannot discuss it.


McConnell apparently has avoided direct involvement.

McConnell, a longtime advocate of tax breaks for mine owners, has had relatively little to say about miners, although he represents thousands. The United Mine Workers of America said they count a number of Republican and Democratic senators as champions of miners, willing to tour mines and promote safety legislation. But not McConnell, the union said.

"He's not done anything to help us with mine safety," said Bill Banig, the union's legislative director. "It does seem odd, given the state that he represents."
Law, the deputy labor secretary, said Chao's Labor Department has markedly improved enforcement on mine safety since 2001.

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