September 25, 2017

Senators Seek Information on Mine Safety Violations by Mine Safety Nominee’s Former Company

Former mining CEO oversaw operation cited for long list of federal miner health and safety violations

Washington, DC – Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Bob Casey (D-PA) are asking the U.S. Department of Labor to produce information on the coal company led by David G. Zatezalo, President Trump’s pick for Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health. 

“Mr. Zatezalo’s tenure as a mining executive is checkered with violations of the same health and safety standards he’ll be expected to enforce.  We need a full account of those violations to ensure he answers the serious questions surrounding his nomination,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “It appears President Trump has chosen yet another industry fox to guard the henhouse, again handing control of our government over to special interests at the expense of the American people.”

“It is the Senate’s duty to ensure that officials at the Department of Labor, particularly those charged with overseeing the health and safety of workers, remain focused on that goal,” said Senator Casey. “As it stands now, Mr. Zatezalo’s record is questionable at best. We have to hold him to the highest degree of scrutiny so that we can protect the health and safety of our miners.”

Zatezalo served in several executive-level positions at Rhino Resources from 2007 to 2014, including Chief Executive Officer and Chairman.  During that time, the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration cited Rhino for a “potential pattern of violations” related to safety and health conditions.  In a letter sent to Labor Secretary Alex Acosta Friday, the Senators ask for any Labor Department documents related to those violations in advance of Zatezalo’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Rhino has had a tenuous relationship with the office Zatezalo hopes to lead.  According to two letters from the Mine Safety and Health Administration to Rhino in 2010 and 2011, one of the company’s West Virginia mines, Eagle #1, racked up a list of health and safety violations that triggered regulatory action under federal miner safety law.  In a particularly bad incident, an insufficiently supported mine wall collapsed and killed a foreman at Eagle #1, resulting in a $44,500 federal fine.  The Labor Department called on Rhino to come into compliance with health and safety standards immediately or risk shutting down parts of the mine’s operation. 

In July 2011, Labor Department inspectors discovered that company management at a Rhino mine in Kentucky were warning employees about safety and health inspections in an effort to hide potential infractions.  This led to the federal government obtaining an injunction to stop the practice.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration is charged with administering the Federal Mine Safety Act, which mandates safety and health standards to reduce the number of accidents at mines and diminish the frequency of mining-related health conditions.  This year to date, according to Mine Safety and Health Administration statistics, there have been 12 workplace fatalities in the coal mining industry.

Full text of the letter below.  A PDF copy is available here.

September 22, 2017

The Honorable R. Alexander Acosta

Secretary of Labor


200 Constitution Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20210

Dear Secretary Acosta,

We write concerning the nomination of David G. Zatezalo to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, who would lead the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).  As you know, this nomination would come before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (“HELP”) Committee.  In order to assist in the full and careful vetting of this nominee consistent with our advice and consent responsibilities under Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, please provide any and all information regarding investigations and enforcement actions related to Rhino Resource Partners LP, or any partly or wholly owned subsidiary of Rhino Resource Partners LP, from 2006 to 2014, including the following:

  • Documents and communications related to MSHA investigations into the Eagle #1 Mine owned by Rhino Eastern LLC, including but not limited to the following:
  1. The November 19, 2010, letter from MSHA to the Safety Director of the Eagle #1 Mine indicating a potential pattern of violations at the mine. 
  2. MSHA’s investigation of and report on the June 27, 2011, fatal rib roll accident.
  3. The August 25, 2011, letter from MSHA to the Safety Director of the Eagle #1 Mine indicating that the mine was “not making a good faith effort to eliminate violations and has reverted back to PPOV [Potential Pattern of Violations] status.” 
  • Documents and communications related to MSHA’s investigation into the practices of Rhino Resources subsidiary CAM Mining, LLC, including but not limited to the following:
  1. The July 16, 2007, fatal surface blasting incident at Three Mile Mine #1 owned by CAM Mining, LLC.
  2. MSHA’s attempted inspection on June 17, 2011, of Mine No. 28 owned by CAM Mining, LLC, and MSHA’s legal actions related to this incident.

Mr. Zatezalo served in various senior management positions at Rhino Resource Partners from 2007 to 2014. 

  • Documents and communications related to MSHA investigations of:
  1. The November 8, 2001, fatal hoisting accident that occurred at Nelms Mine – Cadiz Portal of AEP Ohio Coal, LLC. 
  2. The January 30, 2003, fatal powered haulage accident that occurred at Mine #10 of AEP Kentucky Coal, LLC.  

Mr. Zatezalo was Vice President of Mining Operations of AEP Energy Services from 2001 to 2004.

  • Any other reports related to the operation of mines owned by Rhino Resource Partners and its subsidiaries from 2004 through 2014, and AEP Energy Services and its subsidiaries from 2001 through 2004.
  • Any communications between the Department and Mr. Zatezalo, the Ohio Coal Association, or the Kentucky Coal Association (or counsel representing those entities) pertaining to rules proposed or enacted by MHSA since 2004, including but not limited to MHSA’s 2013 revision to the regulation for pattern of violations (RIN 1219–AB73).  The Ohio Coal Association, of which Mr. Zatezalo was Chairman and/or a member of the Board of Directors from 2004 to 2014, sued the Department over its rule in 2014. 

When responding to this request, please interpret the terms “communications” and “documents” broadly to include those internal to the Department and in all forms and types.  To the extent you consider any of the materials requested to be confidential or otherwise not subject to public disclosure, your staff should contact our staff to make arrangements for their review. 

To help facilitate review of documents prior to Mr. Zatezalo’s confirmation hearing, we ask that the Department provide these materials no later than September 29, 2017.  Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.  Your staff should contact HELP Committee staff if you have any questions. 


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921