Congressman steps up criticism of Rockefeller
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Rep. David McKinley on Tuesday stepped up his disagreement with Sen. Jay Rockefeller and said the senator "just doesn't get" the importance of preventing federal regulators from labeling coal ash as hazardous waste.
McKinley, R-W.Va., said Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is taking a position that could drive up the price of concrete and reduce the number of roads and bridges built in America.
McKinley wants to partially tie the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate coal ash. The House has passed a bill to do that and also set minimum standards for handling the ash.
The House also attached language from the bill to the large transportation funding bill moving through Congress. Rockefeller once supported McKinley's effort but said last week that the coal ash provision was "unrelated" to the transportation bill and should not be included in it.
A 47-member committee of House members and senators is now negotiating the bill.
The committee includes Rockefeller and Reps. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
Coal ash is detritus left after power plants burn coal. These residuals have contaminants linked to cancer and other serious health effects, according to the EPA.
But the ash is also a filler material that can be used in concrete. Concrete is, of course, what roads and bridges are made of.
McKinley said if the EPA labels the ash "hazardous," companies would stop using it. He said that would drive up the cost of concrete by about 15 percent. Consequently, road projects would cost more.
"Do the math," McKinley said. "Instead of doing 12 miles of road, you may only be able to pave 10 miles of road.
"Instead of doing 10 bridges, you can only do eight and a half," he said.
McKinley said he doesn't understand why Rockefeller doesn't see the connection between the coal ash provision and the larger transportation bill.
McKinley said, "Rockefeller clearly, clearly does not understand what we're doing.
"I've had to go back and give people a lesson on how you make concrete," he said.
He said this education effort included a talk with House Speaker John Boehner about how the coal ash measure was related to the transportation bill.
"Now what the hell is Rockefeller saying it's not relevant?" McKinley said.
A spokesman for Rockefeller said the senator was sticking with a statement he made last week.
"Adding coal ash or other environmental bills to that mix is a deal breaker on the conference committee," Rockefeller said then. "That's a fact, not an opinion, and both sides know it. West Virginia suffers if we push unrelated issues that are guaranteed to bring down the highway bill."
Rockefeller's statement came on the heels of remarks he made to Politico that he'd had an "evolution" on the issue and the coal ash provision was "going down." The change has Rockefeller erring on the side of concerns about the ash's potential to affect human health or the environment.
"If you'll notice my voting record in the last year, it's been very environmental, or what I would say is very pro-health," Rockefeller told Politico.
But McKinley said recycling the ash by putting it into concrete is better than attempting to store the 130 million or so tons of it produced each year. About 43 percent of American coal ash is used "beneficially," according to an industry trade group, while nearly 75 million tons are disposed of.
In 2008, just before Christmas, an ash containment pond in Tennessee gave way, covering about 300 acres in sludge.
Federal regulators believe four coal ash impoundments in West Virginia present a "high hazard" if they fail. That ranking does not suggest they are likely to fail but that if they failed there would be significant damage or loss of life. One of the impoundments is at the John Amos power plant in St. Albans.
McKinley, who is not a member of the conference committee, is getting fellow House members to sign on to a letter he is writing to the several dozen senators and representatives on the panel.
Rahall and Capito both said through spokesmen that they would try to get the coal ash provisions into the final bill that is sent to President Barack Obama.
"I am a strong supporter of the coal ash provision and as the Democratic floor manager of the transportation bill when it was considered by the House, was in the position to have the amendment accepted by voice vote," Rahall said through a spokesman.
The spokesman, Blake Androff, said Rahall would continue to push for the coal ash provision in the House-Senate conference committee.
Capito's goal is to "maximize the dollars used to build our nation's infrastructure," said spokeswoman Jamie Corley.
"Coal ash allows manufacturers across the entire country - not just in West Virginia - to mix concrete cost effectively," Corley said. "Prohibiting it from being used in road-building would drive up costs and hurt businesses across the country."
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has expressed support for McKinley's coal ash provision and backs a Senate version of the bill, but he is not on the conference committee.