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Coal concerns top McKinley’s agenda

Walking into Rep. David McKinley’s (R-W.Va.) office, the
first thing a visitor notices is the life-size poster above his couch of coal
miner James Brandon and his young daughter, Kailee.

“I’m looking out for this guy right here,” McKinley said,
pointing to the poster.

“When I came to Washington, I found out that the mining
industry did not have very much respect and these individuals were treated as
numbers and I’m trying to personalize it for anyone who comes into the office.”

{mosads}“This coal miner, he’s real. He’s a human being. He’s a
father, a brother, an uncle, a neighbor, the guy who sits in front of you in
church. He’s not just a statistic.”

McKinley’s district is in coal country and the proud
seventh-generation West Virginian is fighting to protect it.

“People don’t understand if they’ve never been in a coal
mine,” McKinley said. “This guy has to crawl on his hands and knees all day
long for weeks and months on end until he gets that coal, just so you and I can
go home and have electricity and turn on our air conditioning … I want them to
be held with a higher esteem here in Congress.”

One way that McKinley has tried to raise the profile of coal
is through H.R. 2273, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act. That bill
passed the House in October 2011, but never got a vote in the Senate.

As a way to force the issue, McKinley tried to instruct the
highway and transportation conferees to consider it. But that, too, failed.
McKinley remains undeterred. 

“I didn’t come here to just push it and lose it,” he said.

The measure would have instructed coal-burning power plants
to reuse the coal ash — or fly ash — that is produced from burning the coal in
other products.

“Fly ash is an unavoidable byproduct of burning coal. When
you burn coal, you get ash, just like if you throw a log on the fireplace. The
question for the utility companies is, ‘What do they do with the ash?’ ”
McKinley said.

“American ingenuity at its best found that you can mix it
into compounds and make drywall, ceramic tile, bowling balls, ceramic counter
tops, cosmetics and toothpaste. But the biggest use of it has been in

McKinley said the coal ash recycling industry already
employs more than 300,000 workers, and that’s with just 40 percent of coal ash
being reused.

“This was a jobs bill,” McKinley said. “What we were doing
was allowing it to be used in concrete so we could pour more roads. If we pave
more roads, we hire more people. If we build more bridges, we’re going to hire
more people — it’s a jobs bill. But they got caught up in their ideology and
war [on coal], so we lost that. But we’ll come back another way.”

McKinley said one reason his bill failed was because the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has tried to scare lawmakers into
thinking that coal ash is hazardous, despite the results from EPA studies done
during the Clinton administration that say it isn’t.

“I don’t want to do away with the EPA. There are a lot of
scientists there [who] are probably well intended, but right now I think it’s
become something of a rogue group caught up by issues of ideology rather than
science,” McKinley said.

“The science is very clear on things like fly ash and the
mercury and arsenic levels in that, it’s very comparable to what you’d find in
your backyard. We don’t consider our backyards toxic, but in Washington, people
use that word toxic inappropriately because they’re not scientifically trained
and it’s a scare tactic.

“The best way I can counter it is, ‘Do you consider the
apple juice you buy in the super market toxic because apple juice has arsenic
in it?’ It’s just a trace element, but it’s there. And there’s just a trace
element of mercury in coal, but that’s toxic and apple juice is not. It’s
inconsistent because we don’t have a war on apples, we have a war on coal.”

Serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, McKinley
said another issue he plans to work on is indoor air quality.

“The EPA says on their own website that the indoor air
quality can be as much as 96 times worse than the air outside,” McKinley said.
“So when people attack our corporations for discharges from smokestacks and
water, think about it, why aren’t we worried about our indoor quality? Because
we spend 90 percent of our time indoors.”

McKinley said furniture, paint and carpeting all emit toxins
that can damage health.

“If the people here in Congress would just back off their
attack on fossil fuels and industry and manufacturers and pay a little bit more
attention to what goes on in our homes and our offices, perhaps we would have a
more healthy work environment rather than attacking our job creators,” McKinley

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