Pres. Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Labor refused to state under questioning whether he would uphold a rule that protects U.S. workers from being poisoned by silica dust on the job.
At a Wednesday confirmation hearing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said, “The question is will you stand up for 150 million American workers and that starts with making certain that workers are safe on their jobs.”
Warren pointed to a regulation that is currently protecting millions of workers from exposure to “lethal, cancer-causing silica that went into effect last summer.”
“Will you promise not to weaken the silica rule in any way?” Warren asked.
Acosta replied that Pres. Trump has ordered all cabinet secretaries to review all rules passed by their agencies under former Pres. Barack Obama and consider whether they should be repealed or amended.
“I’m aware of that,” Warren said. “But this is a rule that has already gone into effect and I just want to make sure that you’re not going to weaken the rule any further.”
“Senator, I understand,” Acosta said, “but the president directed each Cabinet officer to review all rules and to make determinations whether any rules should be revised. And so, based on that executive action, I cannot make a commitment.”
Respirable crystalline silica — aka “silica dust” — is a byproduct of certain industrial processes from mining to electronics manufacturing. When introduced into the lungs, it settles into airways and blocks the lungs’ ability to absorb oxygen from the air, a chronic, often lethal condition known as silicosis.
The CDC estimates that 250 workers die from silicosis every year in the U.S. and more than a million face the risk of silica dust exposure on the job. In 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) implemented rules requiring companies to protect workers from silica inhalation and poisoning.
Republicans and other pro-business interests are fighting the rule as an unnecessary impediment to making profits. The National Association of Home Builders, the National Association of Manufacturers and other trade groups are attempting to overturn the silica rule in court.
Acosta continued to evade Warren’s questions about the silica rule, falling back again and again on Trump’s order to review all rules.
“You’ve said that and I’ve heard it,” Warren said, “I’m trying to ask for your opinion and you’re telling me you want to be Secretary of Labor, but you can’t tell me whether or not high on your list of priorities would be to protect a rule that keeps people from being poisoned.”
Acosta replied that his office would review the rule and uphold whatever rules he deems “appropriate.”
“And you will decide if it’s appropriate?” Warren asked. “I think we’ve got how this dance works.”