Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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October 17, 2012

Kaine: Virginia expects bridge builders in the Senate

BLUEFIELD — Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is hoping to build bipartisan bridges between Democrats and Republicans if elected to the U.S. Senate on Nov. 6.

Kaine, the former chairman of the Democratic National Party, met last week with members of the Daily Telegraph’s  editorial board where he was quizzed about coal, bipartisan gridlock in Washington, health care reform, job creation and other issues.

Kaine, who is being challenged by Republican George Allen for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Jim Webb, D-Va., said he is advocating a comprehensive energy strategy that includes next generation coal technologies and natural gas along with green energy sources such as wind turbines.

“First of all I have my own views on these topics, and I don’t always agree with the president and folks in my own party on anything,” Kaine, also a former mayor of Richmond, said. “I’m enormously proud of the work I’ve done as governor to get permits with my team on the new coal plant we just opened in Wise. I think by far the greatest challenge for coal right now is natural gas prices. I remember what volatile gas prices used to do for my citizens and my businesses. Long-term abundant natural gas at low prices is the main obstacle to the success of coal right now. The lesson I draw from that is we need to be innovative in coal if we are going to get back to some form of parity. The (Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center) plant is about a 600 mega-watt producer. It has dramatically lower water usage. It has capacity on site for carbon capture and sequestration, and it also burns a coal mix. So my main strategy for coal will be just like Wise. It will be to really focus on coal next gen. And while my opponent attacks me as an enemy of coal, I go right back at him and tell him — you show me a coal plant that got permitted while you were governor.”

Kaine said he has mixed feelings regarding new federal Environmental Protection Agency rules that are impacting the coal industry.

“The Utility MACT regulations — I accept those,” Kaine said. “The plant in Wise meets those. I don’t think we ought to scale them back. A second regulation that the EPA has that I’m more concerned about is the proposed green house gas limits. They set I think that which is very favorable for natural gas bas and not favorable for coal. There is an industry comment going on now about this. I would very much work for a threshold that wouldn’t make energy impossible. Let’s encourage innovation in coal. But you’ve got to have standards that are reasonable and not so far out of reach that everyone gives up.”

Kaine was then asked if he thinks Washington is waging a war on coal.

“I would describe it differently,” Kaine said. “This is a difference between George Allen and me. George doesn’t believe human activity effects climate. I’m convinced by the science. This is a fundamentally differentiating point between George and me. He doesn’t believe humans effect climates. I do.”

Kaine said he supports green energy technologies in addition to fossil fuels.

“I actually think this is the main differences between George and I,” Kaine said. “I am a huge believer in wind and energy technologies. He basically ridicules it. But that anti-innovation attitude — I think that is a really a bad attitude. Sixty-six thousand Virginians work in green energy today. There is a GE plant in Salem that employs 700 people. What they are doing there is building solar arrays and components of wind turbines.”

However, Kaine said he understands that some parts of the Commonwealth may be better suited for green energy projects than others, adding he recently got a “earful” about the wind turbine project proposed for East River Mountain during a tour last week of the Bluestone Regional Business and Industrial Park in Tazewell County.

When asked about the deep bipartisan divide in Washington, Kaine said he has a record of working across the political aisle for the better good of all.

“For me that is the fun part of politics,” Kaine said. “I play bluegrass music with people in  Scott County and I love going to NASCAR in Bristol. Ten years ago it was John Warner as the leader of it, and he was a Republican. Now its Mark Warner and he is a Democrat. Virginia expects bridge builders and that is what people want. The one thing that people talk about is working together. You have to compromise to get things done. That means listening and I don’t get my way 100 percent of the times. Virginians want that. Having been a mayor in a very diverse city and having been governor in a very diverse state in a very challenging time with two Republican houses, I think I can walk in with a skill set that will enable me to do that.”

Kaine said job creation remains another priority. He points to the new dental school planned at the Bluestone Technology Park in conjunction with Bluefield College and the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors as an example of innovative thinking.

“I would say the Tazewell board is a very assertive,” Kaine said. “I was on the site last week, and actually talked with the president of Bluefield College about the lack of a dental school.”

Kaine said the top issues he hears from voters are finding common ground, fixing the economy and fixing the budget.

“On fixing the economy, I was governor during a tough time,” Kaine said. “But we did a lot of hard work, and won all of those accolades — Forbes best for business — when  I was governor. If you win the talent race you win the economic race. That is the thing I really want to tackle when I go to Washington. The issue I most want to work on would be education and workforce. The second issue of fixing the budget is hugely important. I don’t think we can fix the budget without fixing at both ends the balance sheet. We’ve got to get back to balance.”

Kaine also was asked about the new health care law, the federal ban on earmarks and the future of Social Security and Medicare.

Kaine said there are parts of the new health care law he likes, and others he would work to change.

“So what I like — I like youngsters on family policies until age 26,” Kaine said. “I like closing the donut hole. I like insurance companies not being able to turn people down due to pre-existing conditions.”

Kaine said concerns include the 15 member unelected body that will make future decisions regarding health care. Kaine said such a committee would need to be adjusted to allow for more meaningful input.

“It is hard to overrule an administrative agency,” Kaine said. “So more public input and more ability to review the recommendation is important. The big picture is we have to get more control of this cost thing.”

Kaine calls the ban on federal earmarks in Washington is an interesting challenge.

“The ban on earmarks means not only some projects don’t’ get down, but I’ve heard some people in Washington say other legislation doesn’t get passed,” he said. “So earmarks actually helped Congress be effective on other things.”

With or without federal earmarks, Kaine said Congress still needs to have a robust transportation financing plan.

“I’m going to go to the Senate and be just an active advocate for transportation funding,” Kaine said. “The earmark thing is a bigger problem. But I think the bigger problem is the number of people who take the pledge not to raise taxes. So I’ll definitely go to bat for more transportation funding. On the earmark thing, maybe there are other ways to do earmarks that are less objectionable. Here is a thought. Earmarks might be less objectionable if the president maybe had a line item veto.”

Kaine said he was the lone Democratic governor to attend a press conference several years ago held by former President George W. Bush dealing with a discussion on a presidential line item veto for earmarks.

In the meantime, Kaine said he supports the passing of a new long-term, or six-year federal highway bill.

“They (Congress) did pass a transportation bill over the summer months, but I would call it more of a stand in place bill,” Kaine said. “So you need more certainty.”

Kaine said Congress needs to find middle ground, and agree on a compromise, when it comes to the soon-to-expire Bush tax cuts.

“A year ago I could see the sides locked into this and I said — look you are going to need a compromise to avert fiscal collapse,” Kaine said. “Let the tax cuts expire for anyone over $500,000. They were supposed to be temporary. Let them do that.”

Kaine was then asked about Medicare and Social Security.

“Social Security isn’t going to get solvent tomorrow, but it does need to be perennially adjusted,” Kaine said. “I’m certainly against privatization. I think you can keep Social Security solvent. Medicare is the problem. Medicare does contribute to the deficit. But the good news is we are living longer. I don’t like the strategy of covering the cost to seniors. My strategy in Medicare would be going into finding savings rather than cost shifts.”

Kaine said he doesn’t support the so-called current voucher plan advocated by GOP vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan for Medicare.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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