McKinley pulls off coal coup

It appears U.S. Rep. David McKinley has pulled off quite a feat.

Just a few years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency was poised to declare coal ash a hazardous waste. That would have opened the door to harsh EPA regulations that could have driven up the price of electricity and had numerous other undesirable consequences for the economy.

But McKinley, R-W.Va., grabbed that ball and ran with it, for what appears to be a touchdown.

Coal ash is a byproduct of electricity generation at coal-fired power plants. It is used for a variety of purposes, including manufacture of some construction materials. As McKinley, an engineer, pointed out, coal ash is a component of much of the concrete used to construct highways.

McKinley crafted a bill calling for strict but scientifically sound regulation of coal ash, then began selling it to his fellow lawmakers. The process involved scores of meetings and discussions with everyone involved in the issue, from the EPA to labor unions, from utilities to businesses that use coal ash.

So obvious was the need for a reasonable coal ash regulation law that McKinley’s bill passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support.

Now what many may consider the most incredible part of McKinley’s achievement: His office says President Barack Obama and the EPA will not oppose provisions of the bill.

Before it can become law, however, the U.S. Senate must approve the measure. Saying things can move at a snail’s pace in that body is an understatement.

But time is of the essence. Last week, a federal court ruled the EPA must issue regulations on coal ash by Dec. 19. Without guidance from Congress, the agency may go back to its previous position.

Senators should act on the McKinley bill as soon as possible – preferably this winter. That would allow the EPA plenty of time to draft coal ash regulations in time to comply with the court order.

McKinley has pulled off quite a coup. But without Senate approval, it will be all for nothing. West Virginia’s senators, Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, should lead a move to approve the bill.