Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Breaking News

Local News

April 28, 2014

Kaine speaks on critical issues facing Virginia

TAZEWELL,Va. — U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., is urging members of the Virginia Tobacco Commission to give priority consideration to Tazewell County’s funding request for the new Bluefield College School of Dental Medicine.

Kaine, who is completing a tour of Virginia, stopped by the offices of the Daily Telegraph last week to update the newspaper’s editorial board on a number of topics, including the local dental school project, his efforts to break partisan gridlock in Washington, his support for the expansion of federal Medicaid dollars in Virginia, the region’s rampant drug problem, and the future of coal, including a candid discussion on what some view as a “war on coal” by Washington.

During his swing through Tazewell County, Kaine said he met with both Bluefield College President Dr. David Olive and Southwest Virginia Community College President Dr. Mark Estep, and attended a meeting regarding the dental school project. Tazewell County is seeking more than $20 million in tobacco commission grant funding for the project. The commission is expected to consider the county’s application on either May 21 or 22.

“I’m a very strong supporter of the dental school,” Kaine, the former chairman of the National Democratic Committee who has just completed his first year of service as a U.S. senator, said. “I think I first learned about it from Phillip Puckett. When I came down to do the mid-year graduation speech in Bluefield, I met with President (David) Olive and we kind of talked about the pieces (of the dental school project). I’m a very big supporter of it. I have written a letter of support to the tobacco commission talking about why it would be good for the community.”

Kaine said he has learned about the unique health care needs of Southwest Virginia by attending the annual Remote Area Medical Clinic, or RAM, in Wise County.

“I have weighed in with the tobacco commission, and would be glad to do more,” Kaine said. “I think this (tobacco commission vote) is a critical decision now. But there may be ways from the federal level where we can be helpful.”

Kaine was asked about the partisan gridlock in Washington, and his predictions for November, including whether Democrats can retain control of the U.S. Senate.

“The conventional wisdom would be it is up hill for us,” Kaine said of Democrats holding onto the Senate. “I look at it — as we start 55 and put races in category — I tend to be a little bit optimistic by nature. The House will stay Republican and the Senate will stay Democratic. It will be a narrower margin.”

Kaine said he has made breaking the partisan gridlock, and building bipartisan cooperation, a priority in Washington.

“I have been pleasantly surprised in a year plus, or a year and three months, in the Senate with how easy it is to work across the (political) aisle,” Kaine said. “My first piece of legislation was the Troop Talent Act of 2013, which made it easier for (active duty service members) to get employed when they leave and become veterans. And I just worked with (House Majority Leader) Eric Cantor to get a bill passed called the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act. It turns out very little money goes into pediatric research. And Eric and I worked together on that. So I would say it has been easier than I thought it might be to work across the aisle. Now I will tell you the challenge. A surprise has been while you may think some of the dysfunction has been partisanship, but some of it has been communication as well. Some of it is you find areas of commonality if you talk and listen and get to know one another. But everyone is often racing to get back home on the weekends, and the amount of time you spend talking and listening, that is a bit of a challenge. It is easier for me and (U.S. Sen.) Mark (Warner) where we don’t have to be a on plane flying home.”

On the state level, Kaine said he remains hopeful that Virginia will not experience a state-government shutdown this summer due to the partisan gridlock between the state House and Senate over accepting federal Medicaid funds under the Affordable Care Act. The state Senate has voted to accept the federal funds, but House Republicans oppose expanding Medicaid eligibility.

“I really think the Medicaid expansion will be a good idea especially since the Senate has already passed a version of it,” Kaine said. “The Senate plan is a bipartisan plan. It is a very Virginia-focused plan that the chamber of commerce supports and especially rural health care providers. Anywhere where there is not the high volume of patients, it really hurts their bottom line. But you could come in and help with that group of people having Medicaid coverage.”

Kaine also spoke in support of increasing opportunities in the technical education careers through courses offered by community colleges such as Southwest Virginia Community College in Richlands. He pointed to a sign in Tazewell County that reads, “... we are hiring welders.”

“These are good paying jobs,” Kaine said. “I’m focused on that because my dad was a welder and iron worker. We need to make vocational education cool again, and help kids understand that is very good.”

Kaine said the national, and state, drug problem also is a federal health issue.

“We are seeing this prescription drug thing as a major, major problem,” Kaine said. “It is going to take an all-purpose approach. And some of it is for community treatment programs. So we have to tackle this as a public health (issue). We’ve tackled smoking, and driving smoking rates down by tackling it as a public health issue.”

Kaine also went into detail about the future of coal, and the perceived “war on coal” by Washington.

“I think the war on coal is overplayed,” Kaine said. “The war suggests there is somebody that has an evil intent. I don’t think that is the intent. I think coal is being squeezed in from two directions. Natural gas prices are so low that it might be the case that the plant that I worked to permit in Wise County (the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center) might be the last one to open, or that may be one of the last ones to open. We did that because it was state of the art. That plant could be a model for other parts of the country.”

However, due to the current low prices for natural gas, Kaine said many companies are not currently interested in building coal-fired plants.

“Natural gas is the greatest challenge,” Kaine said. “The lesson I draw from that is natural gas got cheap because we found innovative ways about it. Probably, the best thing we can do at the federal level is put money into research, hw to use it (coal) more efficiently, and how to deal with CO2 issues. The EPA and the federal policy are trying to dramatically reduce CO2 because of the concern about climate. And I’m seriously concerned about the changes in climate.”

Kaine said more than 20 years ago, coal was in the crosshairs of Washington due to concerns over acid rain.

“Twenty-two years ago we were down on coal because of acid rain, and we put mechanisms in place, and everyone said that would be the death of coal,” Kaine said. “We did that funny enough by a cap and trade system that was put in by the first President Bush.”

However, coal survived and became stronger, Kaine said.

“So you need to find that right balance or funding for technology,” Kaine said.

Kaine said he will closely monitor proposed new EPA regulations dealing with existing plants — such as the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center in Wise County.

“I am very concerned about what the EPA might do with the regulation of existing plants,” Kaine said.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

 

1
Text Only
Local News
National and World
Newspaper Deivery Routes Available
Sister Newspapers' News
Facebook
Local News Videos