Clarification to This Article
The article on the movement of officials between the mining industry and government reported that nearly a dozen former district directors at the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration had taken jobs with Massey Energy or Murray Energy, which the article called "the two U.S. mining companies with the worst safety records." The article should have said the companies are "among" those with the worst records according to a particular measure used by MSHA, which the articleshould have cited more specifically.

It also reported that the companies' mines have been the sites of at least three accidents in the past decade, claiming 40 lives. Of those, nine deaths occurred at Murray's mines, according to MSHA records. The article also referred to more than 5,700 pending violations against the two companies. Of these alleged violations - which are being contested - the article should have explained that Murray is facing 1,963, and Massey 3,751, according to MSHA records. Murray says the MSHA statistics are not a reliable measure of mine safety because they fail to take into account a variety of factors, such as the number of mines a company operates, their locations and the type of mining performed.

W.Va. mine disaster calls attention to revolving door between industry, government

Former House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt became an industry lobbyist.
Former House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt became an industry lobbyist. (Paul Connors/associated Press)
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By Kimberly Kindy and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 18, 2010

More than 200 former congressional staff members, federal regulators and lawmakers are employed by the mining industry as lobbyists, consultants or senior executives, including dozens who work for coal companies with the worst safety records in the nation, a Washington Post analysis shows.

The revolving door has also brought industry officials into government as policy aides in Congress or officials of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which enforces safety standards.

The movement between industry and government allows both to benefit from crucial expertise, but mining safety experts say it often has led to a regulatory system tilted toward coal company interests. That, they say, has put miners at risk and left behind a flawed enforcement system that probably contributed to this month's Massey Energy mine explosion in West Virginia.

Industries from coal to automobiles to food processing have long sought to capitalize on the experience of former government officials or to win the appointment of allies to federal agencies, and there is nothing illegal about doing so.

"Mining is very specialized. You need experience," said Ellen Smith, owner and managing editor of the independent Mine Safety and Health News. "You can't just throw someone in who has never worked in a mine."

But such relationships have come under increased scrutiny after the West Virginia disaster, which killed 29 miners, and Toyota's recent safety problems. Former regulators hired by the automaker limited the scope of federal probes and at least one vehicle recall, documents show.

Among mining regulators, 30-year industry veteran Richard E. Stickler created the government's scoring system for identifying and reining in dangerous mines when he was head of the MSHA.

The scoring system, which President Obama singled out for criticism in the Massey disaster, has allowed mines with hundreds of unresolved "serious and substantial" violations to remain open.

In an interview, Stickler, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, defended the scoring methodology and said none existed before his tenure. "It is based on facts and numbers," he said. "The biggest problem now is some operators who are jamming up the system by contesting nearly every violation they receive. We need more judges to deal with that."

Dave Lauriski, a Bush appointee who ran MSHA before Stickler, also worked in the industry. He oversaw the writing of regulations in 2004 that allowed conveyer belt tunnels to double as ventilation shafts. The practice -- advocated by coal companies but opposed by many safety experts -- was identified as a key contributor to a 2006 Massey mine disaster, in which a fire killed two workers, records show.

Regulatory shifts

Lauriski said in an interview that his decision and subsequent regulations under the 2006 Miner Act strengthened ventilation standards. Since leaving government, Lauriski has been a mining consultant, advising operators on compliance with federal safety and health laws.

Mining experts said Democratic administrations often fill regulatory jobs with labor union executives hostile to coal companies. Joseph A. Main, Obama's MSHA head, directed health and safety programs for 22 years at the United Mine Workers of America.

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