Virginia Congressman Discusses Infrastructure, Energy Issues
By Charles Boothe
July 8, 2019 - A Virginia congressman has no politically correct words to describe the purpose of a proposal during the 2016 presidential campaign to pass a $2 trillion infrastructure bill.
“It was all smoke and mirrors, in my opinion,” said Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-9th District) during a stop in Bluefield last week.
Virginia Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-9th District) stopped by the Bluefield Daily Telegraph on Monday, where he shared his thought about how the 2020 race was shaping up for Democrats.
Photo by Jessica Nuzzo, Bluefield Daily Telepgrah
Griffith said Trump may have been “a little naive” but both sides knew before the plan was even floated there was no money to pay for it.
With the nation’s roads and bridges deteriorating and federal money essential for many state projects, including West Virginia’s King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway, a massive infrastructure bill is needed, he said, “but we don’t have a deal unless you figure out how to pay for it.”
It would have also helped the coal industry because part of the plan was to demand American steel be used, and that requires metallurgical coal.
But that was never going to get off the ground because everyone knew the plan had no chance.
Griffith said some Democrats want to roll back the 2017 tax cuts to help pay for it, but “no one will agree to that.”
The national debt is already soaring, so living “within our means” is crucial, he added. The national debt has increased more than $2 trillion under the first two years of the Trump Administration.
“I am for an infrastructure bill, and you can make a case for $4 trillion,” he said. “But you have to figure out how you are going to pay for it over time without increasing the national debt.”
Griffith said cutting expenses is an option, but it’s not easy to find support for targeted cuts.
A lot of money is wasted by government, he said, using an ad for the Census Bureau he saw as an example, one that was ineffective, unneeded and a waste of $150,000. “But you can’t get any cuts.”
On the coal issue and lack of significant job growth in the industry in this region, Griffith said it was a combination of factors that hurt the industry.
Coal jobs were already on the decline because of mechanizations and competition from natural gas, he said, but regulations during the Obama Administration created a “brick wall” because it stopped any potential growth of the use of coal for energy.
Those regulations with the Clean Power Plan have been stopped by the Trump Administration, but the damage was done, he added.
“If coal is able to compete on its own (without excessive regulations) and we had not gone through that, we would be in better shape,” he said, adding that the industry will most likely never return to an era of the past.
“The market did what it was going to do,” he said of natural gas competition providing a cheaper alternative and other economic factors that drive energy, including renewables. “But the fear is he (Trump) won’t win in 2020 and the next administration will go back to the war on coal.”
That fear stifles potential investments in the industry and the reopenings of mines as well as the use of coal in general.
“There is no way boards of manufacturing plants or hospitals or schools would have installed new coal-fired boiler systems,” he said. “Everybody was afraid to go in that direction.”
Griffith said the demand fluctuates on the global market but the need is still there and could grow, especially as clean coal technology grows.
The price of natural gas could at some point rise to the point coal may be a more affordable alternative, adding that coal derivatives are also used in other products, including cigarette filters.
He also said he is not at all against solar and wind energy and the technology is changing with those energy sources to make them more cost-effective, and the market will always be driven by the business side of it.
The proposed $2 billion hydroelectric pump storage facility for Tazewell County, which is a renewable source of energy, has been pushed by Griffith.
He said trying to increase emission controls to the point using coal was not cost-effective resulted in job losses, and that should have been avoided.
“Let’s not destroy jobs,” he said.
Another energy related topic is fracking natural gas and building pipelines to move it.
Griffith said as far as he knows, and he has researched it, he sees no environmental issues with fracking. However, he is not happy about the process used to get federal approval of a natural gas pipeline running through part of his district.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), with a large 42-inch diameter pipe, will run from fracking operations in central West Virginia to Chatham, Va., cutting across Giles, Montgomery and Roanoke counties.
“I am not against pipelines in general,” he said. “But I am frustrated with FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) and the process.”
Griffith said EQT, the Pittsburgh-based energy company behind the MVP, “has not done the things they ought to have done to prepare and inform the community” or use new technology.
For example, he said technology is available to cover pipes with a foam to detect leaks, as well as lay fiber optic cable on top to monitor activities around the pipe, including temperature and any movement.
“The technology is out there,” he said. “Why aren’t they using that?
Griffith is also concerned about the diameter of the pipe, which is larger than usual.
“Explosions don’t happen often, but if I lived near a pipeline I would want that technology,” he said. “I don’t know why FERC has not insisted on it.”
Another issue, he said, is disturbing land.
“I have some concern about karst,” he said, referring to underground sinkholes and caves, common to many areas in the region.
Griffith said the appropriate geological studies should have been done to determine any potential detrimental impact.
“I don’t feel comfortable that has necessarily happened,” he said, adding that he also concerned about the MVP’s impact on the unique wetland area of Bent Mountain near Roanoke. “I am very nervous about that.”