Keeping miners safe, healthy

Keeping coal miners as safe as possible is not a partisan concern. But, to judge by a vote in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, you might conclude that it is.

By a 52-46 vote, senators confirmed Wheeling resident David Zatezalo to head the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. All the “yea” votes were from Republicans. The “nays” were from Democrats and independents.

Since President Donald Trump nominated him several weeks ago, Zatezalo has been scrutinized exhaustively. His record as a mining company executive has been criticized by those who worry he will not be strict in requiring the industry to comply with safety and health regulations.

For his part, Zatezalo has pledged to do all in his power to enforce the law. His career, in which he rose from mining coal with his own hands to managing energy companies, is an advantage in that regard, he believes.

Trump promised before the election last year to help coal miners hurt by former President Barack Obama’s policies. He referred specifically to the former administration’s drive to shut down coal mines and coal-fired power plants.

Trump is keeping his promise in that regard.

But mining can be a dangerous occupation. The president owes those who dig coal all the safety the federal government can provide. That means requiring that miners and mining companies adhere to the regulations.

Zatezalo is the president’s designated enforcer, with an insider’s knowledge of the challenges of his job. Among them is ensuring that MSHA prioritize its efforts.

Many coal executives complain that federal mine inspectors sometimes hand out citations too freely for infractions that have little or nothing to do with safety and health. That has to stop.

At the same time, MSHA should come down hard on anyone, whether an individual miner or a high-profile executive, who puts men and women in danger unnecessarily.

Zatezalo should receive all the support he needs in that task, from both the White House and members of Congress of both parties.