Ex-coal mining CEO asks Trump to resist punishing coal execs

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A former coal mining executive jailed for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards asked President Donald Trump on Tuesday to resist attempts in Congress to enhance criminal penalties for coal executives who violate mine safety and health standards.

Don Blankenship, who recently was freed from federal prison, also asked the president in a letter to re-examine a federal investigation into the nation’s worst coal mining disaster in four decades.

Mr. Blankenship served a year in prison for a misdemeanor conviction of conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, where 29 workers died in a 2010 explosion. Jurors didn’t convict him of another conspiracy and securities fraud charges that could have extended his sentence to 30 years.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and others have tried without success to pass legislation to stiffen penalties on mine safety crimes. The Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act was reintroduced last month.

The legislation, initially offered after the 2010 explosion, would give the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration more enforcement authority, strengthen whistleblower protections and require independent accident investigations. MSHA director Joe Main said his agency needs federal subpoena power in investigations.

The GOP took control of the House in January 2011. Republicans have not given the bill much support.

Mr. Blankenship said mine safety will improve if technology-related legislation is passed to “allow America’s coal miners to mine coal at less risk to themselves.” He suggested splitting MSHA into a regulatory arm and an accident investigation arm.

In response to a question about Mr. Blankenship’s letter, the White House said Mr. Trump is “committed to his promise to the American people to rid government of wasteful regulations.”

United Mine Workers union president Cecil Roberts said before Mr. Trump considers making any changes to MSHA, “I would strongly suggest he talk to the families of the 29 miners killed at UBB and then determine if he needs to act.”

Manchin spokesman Jonathan Kott said Tuesday that out of respect for the families, the Democrat “is not going to comment about this anymore.” After Mr. Blankenship’s release from prison last week, Mr. Manchin said he hoped Mr. Blankenship would “disappear from the public eye.”

In his letter, Mr. Blankenship questioned several investigations that concluded the blast was sparked by worn and broken equipment, fueled by a deadly buildup of methane and coal dust.

Federal investigators discovered that Massey had made “systematic, intentional and aggressive efforts” to hide problems and throw off inspectors, even falsifying safety records. Managers also alerted miners when inspectors arrived, allowing time to disguise or temporarily fix dangerous conditions.

Medicaid expansion weighed

Senate negotiators, meeting stiff resistance to the House’s plans to reduce the scope and reach of Medicaid, are discussing a compromise that would maintain the program’s expansion under the Affordable Care Act but subject that larger version of Medicaid to new spending limits.

With 62 senators, including 20 Republicans, coming from states that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the House’s American Health Care Act almost certainly cannot pass the Senate. The House bill could leave millions of Medicaid beneficiaries without health coverage, but in a House debate focused more on pre-existing medical conditions and tax cuts, the sweeping Medicaid changes received little attention.

Those changes would, for the first time, put Medicaid on a budget, limiting federal payments to states for care provided to tens of millions of low-income people — not just those who gained Medicaid coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act, but also children, people with disabilities and nursing home residents who have been eligible for decades under the law that created Medicaid in 1965. The House bill would cut expected Medicaid spending by more than $800 billion over 10 years, according to the most recent estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.

Press secretary job

Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former first lady of San Francisco and current Fox News host, is in conversations with the Trump administration about becoming White House press secretary, she said in an exclusive interview with the Bay Area News Group Monday night.

Abortion providers

Texas is asking the federal government to reverse course and provide funding for a state-run women’s health program that excludes abortion providers, an apparent test of the Trump administration that could provide a model for other conservative states.

Revenue-neutral tax plan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that any tax overhaul can’t add to the growing U.S. budget deficit, a position that places him at odds with Mr. Trump, who has called for a significant tax cut.

Infrastructure plan

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said Monday that the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan will be out in a few weeks and will call for $200 billion in taxpayer money to generate $1 trillion in private investment.

The New York Times, The Mercury News and Bloomberg News contributed.

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