Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 28, 2012

Rahall mulls issues

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., admits he is as frustrated as some of his constituents when it comes to issues such as the inability of Congress to work together, the ban on federal earmarks and the continued omission of a long-term federal highway bill.

“Compromise was used in our Constitution and what a great document it is,” Rahall, who recently met with members of the Daily Telegraph’s editorial board, said. “Compromise is not a dirty word in my opinion. Earmarks aren’t a dirty word in my opinion. I think earmarks have a place in our legislative process. Earmarks are a part of our constitutional duty as lawmakers to decide how monies are spent. Do we want the president of the United States — no matter who he is — to have that power over Congress. No, and I don’t think that is what our Constitution meant for us to do.”

However, without federal earmarks, Rahall admits lawmakers must now get creative when it comes to finding new federal funding sources for projects such as the King Coal Highway, the Coalfields Expressway, and the Colonial Intermodal Center project proposed for downtown Bluefield.

Rahall, the veteran lawmaker serving West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, is seeking his 19th term in office. He has served 36 years in the House first being elected in 1976. He is being challenged by Republican Rick Snuffer of Beckley, who is a member of the House of Delegates in the West Virginia Legislature.

“I’m running based on my record and based upon my constituent service to West Virginia,” Rahall said. “I believe I have the experience needed and I represent the values we hold dear in southern West Virginia. Jobs have always been my number one goal. It’s jobs, jobs, jobs. I believe my experience includes working across party aisles. Times are a changing. It is certainly a different climate now than years before and I think that calls for experience. I want to put that experience to work.”

However, Rahall admits that voters are frustrated by what they see coming out of Washington, including the deep and bitter bipartisan divide.

“Why else are we zero in popularity polls — although I think we are up to 4 percent now that we’ve got our families back behind us,” Rahall said. “But the second reason is with this day of 24-7 talk shows. You’ve got the far right and the far left that have to talk 24 hours a day seven days a week. And they get the two extremes on that batter and fight each other hour upon hour and that polarizes people.”

Rahall also was asked about the current woes facing the region’s coal industry, and whether or not he is supporting President Barack Obama for re-election.

“There are some in Washington who are definitely anti-coal,” Rahall said. “They will say no — it’s just surface mining which is destructive, but their real agenda is anti-coal — period.”

Rahall was then asked “who” are the individuals in Washington that are anti-coal.

“EPA and maybe even above them — they obviously answer to the president and the White House,” Rahall said. “But this coal in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia is some of the best in the world. It’s high quality, low sulfur, clean burning metallurgical coal. The sun doesn’t always shine. The wind doesn’t always blow. But coal is always there. Unfortunately, coal is now down to 42 percent of our electrical generation. It all relates back to that perfect storm that I mentioned earlier and all of those factors impacting coal. Number one, without a doubt, is the excessive over reach and rough shot manner the EPA has been running over and treating our states. Second you have the unusually low price of natural gas. Third you have a lot of high quality coal that has been easily obtainable. On the surface it is being mined out. Fourth you have a unusually warm winter that we went through. That’s a factor against the coal industry. Fifth you have the world-wide demand that has slacked off.”

Rahall was non-committal when asked who he will support for president this November — Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney?

“I have served under six presidents,” Rahall said. “I have opposed presidents when their policies don’t reflect what is best for southern West Virginia, and I’ve supported presidents when their policies are supportive of southern West Virginia. My 36-year defense of the coal industry record stands for itself. And I have a list of well over 50 votes where I have opposed the EPA. Obviously Obama is bad for West Virginia when it comes to coal.”

Rahall said he also disagrees with Obama on other issues, including his opposition to the proposed Keystone pipeline project and certain trade policies.

“When he is right for West Virginia, I will be there supporting him,” Rahall said. “When he’s wrong, I won’t. Mitt Romney is running on the so-called Ryan budget, and that is devastating to West Virginia. I don’t believe in ending Medicare and turning Medicare into a voucher program where our seniors have to go out and compete. I think they should have that guarantee of Medicare when it is something they’ve paid into.”

Rahall was asked about stagnation in the region, including the lack of federal funds for the King Coal Highway and Coalfield Expressway, the lack of federal funding for the proposed Colonial Intermodal Center, the inability of area veterans to secure a long-requested veterans clinic and even the inability of city officials in Bluefield to secure a grocery store.

“You’ve touched upon a myriad of problems there and problems we have,” Rahall said in response to the question. “I certainly realize that and the anxiety and frustration and the uncertainty and fear that exists among our people about their future and the state. With the King Coal Highway we weren’t able to obtain additional earmarks for that because earmarks aren’t allowed nowadays. We also had to scale it (the new federal highway bill) back from a five-year to a two-year bill. That’s actually considered a victory if you consider where we started at the beginning of the year.”

Rahall, the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he had to fight to get a two-year extension, adding some Tea Party Republican lawmakers were unwilling to concede even a short-term extension.

“West Virginia still gets back $2.18 for every one dollar we send to the Highway Trust Fund,” Rahall said. “So that’s another factor we have to consider.”

Rahall, who has actively opposed postal center closures across southern West Virginia, said he remains frustrated with the looming closure of Bluefield’s Mail Processing and Distribution Center in 2013.

Rahall also is actively involved in the discussion to find a new grocery store for Bluefield.

“We are still working with the city to try to come up with a grocery store, or something viable for that facility,” Rahall said. “And in this day of no earmarks that means we have to come up with new innovative partnerships. It’s a competitive world out there now for which we must compete for federal monies.”

Rahall also secured $600,000 in federal funds in 2009 for the initial engineering and “seed funding” costs for the proposed Colonial Intermodal Center project. However, it will take millions more in federal funds to actually construct the transit center envisioned for downtown Bluefield.

Rahall said the project funding isn’t limited just to the passage of a new, long-term federal highway bill, adding that his office and the city are exploring other funding sources for the project, including Economic Development Administration funding and other innovative partnerships.

Rahall also was asked about why local veterans can’t get a veterans clinic in Mercer County, and whether or not the VA Hospital in Beckley is opposed to the Mercer County project.

“We are working with them,” Rahall said of the Beckley VA Hospital. “And they are working with us. They claim there is a process and we are trying to work that process.”

In the meantime, Rahall said area veterans and concerned citizens should continue writing letters and making phone calls.

“Veterans, as they have been doing, can register and get on the list, to get the number they claim they need to put the clinic in,” Rahall said. “Al Hancock, bless his heart, has been working hard to get the center here. This is a tough nut to crack. But I do believe we are beginning to crack it.”

— Contact Charles Owens at