WHEELING - A House-Senate conference committee dropped Rep. David B. McKinley's "fly ash amendment" from the federal transportation bill before reaching agreement on the measure this week.
Lawmakers worked Thursday to put final touches on the legislation, and votes on the completed bill could come today.
McKinley's amendment in the transportation bill sought to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating coal ash as a hazardous substance. The measure initially passed the House as stand-alone legislation last fall, but it was never taken up in the Senate.
"While I respect the democratic process, removing the House-passed amendment unfortunately sends two messages," McKinley said. "The first is that citizens living in the vicinity of coal ash impoundments will not have the new EPA safeguards provided in the bill, and they will continue to be exposed to health and environmental issues they have been experiencing for the past 30 or more years. The second message regarding removal of the coal ash provision is the loss of hundreds of thousands of construction jobs because of the increased cost of concrete and the additional loss of 316,000 jobs related to the beneficial recycling of coal ash into both construction and consumer goods.
"It's a shame our colleagues in the Senate wanted to make this more of a political statement in their ongoing 'war on coal' rather than an issue about jobs and the environment. The reuse and the safe disposal of coal ash have been in front of Congress for the past 30 years, but they keep 'kicking the can down the road' instead of adopting a bipartisan solution," he continued. "For the first time in all these years, Congress actually had a solution, and one which included federal EPA oversight."
Also removed from the transportation bill as part of the agreement was an amendment authorizing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
U.S. Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., both applauded the agreement that was achieved.
"This surface transportation bill was the result of a lot of hard work and compromise," Rockefeller said. "While no major bill is perfect, I'm thrilled this agreement will keep funding levels for West Virginia highways secure and strong for the next two years. This agreement helps West Virginia plan for the future of its highways while creating and preserving jobs.
"Throughout this legislative process I've stressed to colleagues that our nation's infrastructure needs improvements to keep Americans safe on our roads and bridges," he continued. "I'm pleased this bill addresses those concerns moving forward."
West Virginia is authorized to receive $423.3 million for fiscal year 2012, $423.3 million for fiscal 2013, and $426.9 million for fiscal 2014, according to information provided by Rockefeller's office.
"Investing in infrastructure isn't a Democratic idea or a Republican idea - it's an American idea," Manchin added. "While this measure is not perfect, I am pleased that my colleagues were able to work together across party lines to reach an agreement. When it comes to infrastructure and all of our critical priorities, our states are counting on us to work on long-term legislation to give them the maximum amount of certainty and planning time - we simply cannot afford to just kick the can down the road with short-term extensions that take us month to month."
But Manchin noted he was disappointed the bill agreement did not contain the provision to prevent the EPA from placing stronger regulations on coal ash.
"Not many people realize that coal ash is commonly recycled for everyday uses like roads and buildings, and that it is a less-expensive construction material," Manchin said. "This provision would have ensured that states, and not the federal government, take the lead in properly regulating coal ash. It also would have saved us money and created thousands of jobs - a clear win for the people of West Virginia and all American taxpayers. I will continue to work to make sure it passes Congress sooner rather than later.
"I am equally disappointed that this bill did not contain a measure that would finally allow us to build the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring oil into the United States from our friends in Canada, create good American jobs and make this country more energy independent."