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This news story originally provided by The Lexington Herald-Leader
November 18, 2004

Not a proud legacy

Lauriski leaves woeful record at MSHA

Elaine Chao's Department of Labor says the departing head of U.S. mine safety, Dave Lauriski, "leaves behind a legacy of accomplishments and strong safety record."

But Lauriski's real legacy is sweetheart deals and self-interested attempts to roll back protections for miners.

A recent report by the Labor Department's Inspector General confirmed that under Lauriski, MSHA wrongfully awarded no-bid, single-source contracts totaling more than $500,000 to two companies with ties to Lauriski and one of his lieutenants.

The investigation was sparked by complaints from Jack Spadaro, an engineer who had directed the Mine Safety and Health Administration's training academy in West Virginia.

Spadaro also accused Lauriski's administration of covering up past MSHA failings that contributed to the huge spill of coal waste in Martin County in 2000.

Spadaro's outspokenness got him demoted, transferred and nearly fired. Spadaro filed a whistleblower suit against the government alleging retaliation. He settled the suit last month and retired from MSHA, which is a great loss for coal miners and coalfield residents but a gain for the speaking circuit.

The inspector general's report vindicated Spadaro's allegations of illegal contracts. Curiously, though, the inspector general struggled to portray the improprieties as a systemic problem rather than laying the misdeeds at the feet of a couple of Bush appointees.

In any case, the procurement violations were serious enough that the inspector general recommended rescinding MSHA's independent procurement authority. Quite a legacy.

What Lauriski will be remembered for most, however, is his attempt to rewrite federal rules on dust control in mines to suit his former employer, Energy West Mining Co. of Utah.

As a coal industry official, Lauriski lobbied for the regulatory change that he later tried to push through as President Bush's head of mine safety.

No one liked the proposal -- not the miners union nor the rest of the coal industry -- so Lauriski dropped it.

No official word yet on Lauriski's successor. So, until we hear differently, we'll cling to the hope that it has to get better for the mine safety agency.


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