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.
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W.Va. mine disaster calls attention to revolving door between industry, government
MSHA spokesman Carl Fillicino said of Main: "Joe Main's career is not revolving; it's evolving. His career has evolved from being a safety advocate for miners at the United Mine Workers to being the nation's safety advocate for all miners as a public servant."
The Post's examination identified nearly a dozen former MSHA district directors who recently took jobs as executives and consultants with Massey or Murray Energy, the two U.S. mining companies with the worst safety records. Their mines have been the sites of at least three accidents in the past decade, claiming 40 lives. The two companies together have more than 5,700 pending safety violations.
The incentives for such job moves are significant, with industry typically paying double or triple the salary of district directors, who average about $85,000 a year.
Former government officials also have been hired as industry lobbyists. The mining sector, including coal operators and support companies, spent more than $26 million on lobbying last year, part of a dramatic increase since West Virginia's Sago mine disaster of 2006, which killed 12 and led to some safety reforms. Lobbying disclosures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show that more than 170 people who once worked as congressional staffers, mining regulators or members of Congress are now registered industry lobbyists.
Coal giant Peabody Energy, for example, which ranks fifth in mine safety violations, employs about 50 lobbyists and spent nearly $6 million last year to lobby on a range of issues, including climate change and energy regulation, records show. Key representatives of the St. Louis-based company include former Democratic House majority leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, disclosures show.
Peabody and Gephardt officials did not respond to telephone messages, and numerous other lobbyists and industry officials declined to comment.
Tony Oppegard, a former MSHA regulator and a Kentucky lawyer who represents miners, criticized what he said was a Bush-era practice of appointing industry-friendly regulators.
"Bringing people in with long ties to the mining industry to the very top of the chain of command at MSHA, I think, had an extremely detrimental effect on mining safety," he said. "They have changed the entire mission of the agency, and it has a lasting effect for years to come. The mind-set stays in place, and so do the policies."
Complaints of undue industry influence at MSHA are not new. During congressional hearings in 2006, some lawmakers questioned the high number of industry executives then running the agency.
"I underestimated the political environment that I would find myself in," Lauriski said. "I was open to a lot of public scrutiny. It was something I had to overcome." He had recruited both of his deputies from the industry.
Government experience in mine regulation, as in many industries, is considered an asset at law firms that represent coal companies before MSHA.
Page H. Jackson, who spent 30 years with MSHA as a lawyer and technical compliance director, left in 2008 to represent mining operators at the Washington-based Jackson Kelly law firm. Jackson declined an interview request.
The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, which oversees safety disputes between regulators and operators, also draws from industry. Former Massey chief operating officer Stanley C. Suboleski served on the commission from 2001 to 2003 and now is back at Massey, serving on its board of directors. Suboleski did not return a call seeking comment.
The industry's influence in Washington was highlighted several years ago during a fight over safety legislation co-sponsored by then-senator Barack Obama. The 2007 bill would have allowed MSHA to issue subpoenas and to more easily shut down troublesome mines.
The proposals led to a lobbying frenzy involving more than 70 companies, industry groups and unions. They ultimately were blocked in the Senate after a veto threat from Bush and opposition from some coal-state Democrats. The National Mining Association, the industry's leading trade group, said the law would have created an "administrative nightmare."
Research director Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.