U.S. Rep. David McKinley, who in his short time in Congress has achieved the reputation of a tireless fighter for the coal industry, appears to have accomplished something very important. If the deal he has brokered holds up, it could have enormous ramifications.
McKinley, R-W.Va., tried in 2011 to get a bill on coal ash enacted. His initiative was in reaction to the threat of draconian new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on the substance, which is generated when industries, including power plants, burn coal.
As McKinley pointed out in response to reports the EPA might classify coal ash as a toxic substance, the material is used in a variety of products, ranging from concrete to drywall.
Pressure from the EPA already has spurred some electric utilities to plan for closure of coal-fired power plants, which will be replaced with gas-fueled units. That will hit the coal industry hard - and, in the long run, is likely to drive up power prices for residential consumers and businesses.
In the bill passed handily by a bipartisan coalition in the House in 2011, McKinley sought to avoid harsh new EPA rules on coal ash. Members of the U.S. Senate, dominated by liberal Democrats, refused to consider the measure.
But McKinley is nothing if not tenacious. Last week he revealed another initiative, House Resolution 2218, on the coal ash challenge. The measure would allow states to set their own standards for coal ash, with EPA oversight.
This time, McKinley included provisions already agreed to in the Senate. He also enlisted support from labor unions, utilities and other industries, coal operators and environmentalists.
Yes, environmentalists. McKinley has pulled off quite a feat. It appears the EPA will go along with his initiative.
If that spirit of compromise remains present, it could signal an opportunity to address other unnecessarily harsh EPA initiatives involving the coal industry.
McKinley should push for approval of HR 2218 as soon as possible in the House. Then, senators from West Virginia and Ohio should lead the charge for approval in that chamber. Once that is accomplished, a new push for the EPA to declare a truce in the war on coal should be mounted.