BLUEFIELD — Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Virginia 9th District, stopped by the Bluefield Coal Show Friday and walked away impressed with what he saw.
“It (the current political environment) has given new life to that,” he said of the show. “It is up.”
Griffith said vendors are happy as work in the coal mining industry has increased this year with more people being hired.
Friday was the last day of the three-day show and Griffith reflected an upbeat attitude that was prevalent throughout the show.
“It really did have a nice buzz and pulse,” said Josh Cline, president and CEO of the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce, the show’s host. “Everybody was energized. We had several vendors who were passing by the main booth and said it was the best show they have been to here.”
The show attracted 195 exhibitors in the mining or related industries.
Cline said work on the 2019 biennial show will start right away.
“We are excited for 2019,” he said. “It will be held Sept. 11-13 and a number of exhibitors said to go ahead and mark it down, they will be back.”
Cline thanked all the volunteers who helped with the show.
“We are really glad everyone had such a wonderful time,” he said.
Griffith stopped by the Bluefield Daily Telegraph after attending the show for an interview and said he has introduced legislation that would further boost coal’s future.
The bill would allow a coal-burning power plant or other facility to retrofit or upgrade without meeting the new environmental emissions standards, only showing there would be an improvement in efficiency with less pollutants.
“That would allow some of those folks who have aging coal facilities to retrofit without a big expense,” he said. “It would still cost money, but not nearly as much. They only have to show that it (emission standards) would be better than they were.”
That way, rather than shut down, they could stay open and not have to build a new, and very expensive, facility that may use natural gas rather than coal.
It’s a simple concept, he said, but one that would never have gotten anywhere if (Hillary) Clinton would have been elected because she would not have signed it.
With Trump the president, that’s a different story, he said, adding that he is not always happy with Trump’s style, but he is getting things done that are needed.
“I wish he would talk less,” Griffith said. “I don’t always agree with him.”
He is doing good things for the economy and overall “a decent job,” he said, but the Senate has to do something as well.
Griffith also said Appalachian thermal coal (used in power plants) could be protected to a degree if a certain percentage of it had to be set aside as a reserve in case of a natural disaster or terrorist attack that impacted the natural gas supply or the supply of coal from western states.
Griffith said he has nothing against natural gas, but coal and nuclear power are not as vulnerable to disasters.
The Congressman also addressed the proposed hydroelectric facility that could be located on East River Mountain in Tazewell County or an abandoned coal mine in Wise County.
The preliminary estimate for a single facility could be in the range of $2 billion and provide millions in tax revenue to counties in the coalfield region, also creating hundreds of jobs during construction and up to 50 permanent jobs when complete.
Hydroelectric storage, also known as pumped storage, works by storing water in an upper reservoir. When electricity is needed, water is released to a lower body of water, spinning turbines to produce electricity.
“It is big,” Griffith said of its impact on the region, and possibly more could come to Southwest Virginia.
“Let’s get one first,” he said, adding that wherever the facility is located, which will be determined some time next year, it creates tax revenue for other counties in the region because of a revenue-sharing agreement.
Another long-term economic boost to the region could be highways, he said, particularly the completion of the Coalfield Expressway from Interstates 77 and 64 in West Virginia to Interstate 81 in Virginia as well as the Interstate 73-74 corridor that would connect the King Coal Highway in West Virginia to I-77 at Bluefield.
“There may be some federal money,” he said, referring to Trump’s proposed infrastructure plan. “I would support it if the money goes to infrastructure.”
Griffith said former Pres. Barrack Obama also got through an infrastructure plan but only 15 to 20 percent of the money actually was spent on infrastructure.
Those highways are needed, he said, to help attract new business.
One of Griffith’s most pressing projects is trying to make sure residents in the 9th District have access to health insurance.
“I did not love the repeal and replace bill we (the House) passed,” he said. “But it would have stabilized the markets.”
The bill failed in the Senate, leaving room for insurance carriers to discontinue coverage, which has been the looming threat in Southwest Virginia and what he has been working to avoid.
However, Griffith said Friday afternoon Anthem has decided to sell individual plans in Virginia, including all jurisdictions of the Ninth Congressional District.
“I am appreciative that Anthem reentered the market, ensuring that Southwest Virginians will have an option to purchase health insurance in 2018,” he said. “Moving forward, I will continue to work towards a rational health insurance system that offers consumers affordability and choice.”
Griffith described Obamacare as a glass vase but with so many holes all the water will drain out. That has to be fixed, he said, and he is “guardedly optimistic” that both the House and the Senate can eventually come together on a reasonable plan.
But the Senate remains a source of frustration because they don’t get anything accomplished, he added.
Griffith said when he was in the Virginia General Assembly things could get done in one two-month session.
In Washington, it may be five or six years, if ever.
“But I have built seniority,” he said, referring to his tenure in the House since 2011 after a surprising win over entrenched incumbent Democrat Rick Boucher in 2010.
Morgan, a Salem, Va. resident, was is vice chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and serves on Subcommittee on Health and the Subcommittee on Energy.
In 2000, Morgan was elected House Majority Leader in Richmond, the first Republican in Virginia history to hold that position.
Charles Boothe at firstname.lastname@example.org