PARKERSBURG - Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has flip-flopped on an issue critical to the coal industry in the state, a West Virginia representative said Thursday.
"I don't understand that from a man who once was quoted as saying, 'coal defines us,'" Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said.
McKinley, citing stories Thursday in Politico.com, said Rockefeller has changed his stand on coal ash and will work to remove a provision he previously supported from the House version of a transportation bill to be debated in conference committee next month. The amendment would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from classifying coal ash as a hazardous waste, which McKinley has avidly supported.
Rockefeller and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., have been appointed to the conference committee that will write a final transportation bill from versions adopted by the two chambers of Congress. The Senate version doesn't include the amendment.
Rockefeller is chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
"My priority is enacting into law a transportation bill that creates jobs, builds highways and bridges and keeps people safe when they drive. Adding coal ash or other environmental bills to that mix is a deal breaker on the conference committee. 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 said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.
"But I want to be crystal clear: We do need to find the right balance for beneficial reuse of coal ash, and I remain determined to find the right solution. I have worked on coal ash for more than a decade with West Virginia stakeholders and more recently with my colleague Congressman McKinley and I always made it clear that I believed the legislation would need to be improved before it could pass the Senate and be signed into law," Rockefeller said. "We have all heard from our constituents about water contamination and health impacts, and those concerns still need to be addressed."
Politico.com Thursday reported Rockefeller said the coal ash provision in the transportation bill was "going down."
"If this goes down, it puts this issue and others like it in the hands of unelected bureaucrats to make decisions that will ultimately affect all of us," McKinley said. "This bill protects jobs and public health by ensuring that needed provisions are put in place so that the 48 states around the country can continue recycling coal ash."
Another issue in the Republican-controlled House version of the transportation bill is the authorization of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast refineries. The version from the Senate, controlled by the Democrats, doesn't include the pipeline.
Politico.com also said Rockefeller said Democrats were solidly against it.
President Obama in January rejected, for the time being, a permit for the pipeline, saying the $7 billion project could not be adequately reviewed within a 60-day period required by Congress. In March, the president said he supported expediting the construction of the southern end of the line, but the northern end required more review.
In March, a majority of senators, but not the 60 required for approval, voted for an amendment to approve the pipeline. The amendment failed 56 to 42 with Rockefeller against and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in favor.