Mining for Legislation

By Judy Sarasohn
Thursday, March 9, 2006

With the coal industry's improving safety record pretty much shot already for 2006 by the explosion in a West Virginia mine in January and other incidents that have left 21 coal miners dead -- 22 died in all of 2005 -- about two dozen mine executives and industry representatives lobbied the Hill this week in support of mine safety legislation.

"We're not there to argue or fight or to prevent anything," explained Michael J. Quillen , chief executive of Alpha Natural Resources, a leading Appalachian coal producer. "We're not looking for feel-good legislation. We want something that works."

To that end, the coal executives told more than 60 lawmakers about what they called a "set of guiding principles" for Congress to consider as it works on mine safety legislation. Those principles include expediting the development of two-way communication and tracking technology, improving safety training and rescue capabilities, and mandatory drug testing of all mine personnel. Also, the mine executives want a liability shield and indemnification for rescue activities and tax incentives to help pay for safety equipment and training.

Quillen and Luke Popovich , vice president for external communications for the National Mining Association, said coal mining is a technologically difficult and hazardous operation. Communications and other safety devices have to be developed to withstand explosions and not cause them by sparking, they said. Without federal legislative backing and directives, the industry is too small to encourage manufacturers to develop the necessary technology. Moreover, it has no authority to go to NASA or the Defense Department for help, they added.

"We can't walk up to Wal-Mart and get the technology off the shelf and put it into use," Quillen said.

The mining executives did run into some skepticism on the Hill, they said. And some folks who represent miners aren't convinced of the mine operators' good faith. But Popovich said that "instead of running from the problem, they're running toward it -- in hopes of finding a legislative solution that actually leads to safer mines."

The West Virginia delegation has introduced legislation to increase mine safety, but little has been done on it. The Senate last month approved an amendment by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) to a tax bill to provide tax incentives to help mining companies pay for safety equipment and train rescue teams. That bill goes to conference with a House measure that was passed before this year's mine accidents.

Change to Change

Change to Win, the new labor federation whose members split last year from the AFL-CIO, has snagged Frank Clemente , director of Public Citizen's lobbying arm, Congress Watch. Clemente started this week as the labor group's issues campaign director.

Clemente had been at Public Citizen for about 12 years, directing major public education and advocacy efforts on campaign finance, improving access to health care, as well as fighting GOP proposals for product liability and securities litigation legislation.

Among the Change to Win members are the Laborers' International Union of North America, the Teamsters, the United Farm Workers and others. "The reach is big," Clemente said. "This is a major political force," he added, with "the ability to move these big issues."

Here and There

Also moving about town . . . Winnie Stachelberg has signed on as senior vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress, the liberal think tank and advocacy group founded by Clinton White House chief of staff John D. Podesta . Stachelberg was vice president of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and earlier served as political director of the Human Rights Campaign, the gay civil rights organization. She called the move " a great opportunity to help promote progressive policies and ideas."

Shahira Knight is beating her former boss, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), out the door. Before Thomas's announcement this week that he will retire from the House, Knight joined the C2 Group as a partner in the lobby shop. The C2 Group was founded by Tom Crawford , a former Michigan state legislative aide, and John Cline , a former assistant secretary of transportation in the Bush I administration.

Penelope Naas , most recently director of the Office of European Union at the International Trade Administration, next month joins Citigroup as vice president of global government affairs and chief of staff. Naas started at the Commerce Department during the Clinton administration. Citigroup's senior vice president for global government affairs is Nicholas Calio , former top lobbyist to the current president.

Celia Wallace , previously energy and environment legislative aide to Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), has joined Tongour Simpson Holsclaw as a vice president. Earlier, she worked on the Senate Energy Committee for then-Chairman J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.). Members of the firm include former senator Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) and his former chief counsel, Mike Tongour .

Barbour Griffith & Rogers has hired Shalla Ross , most recently policy director at the House Republican Conference Committee.

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