Congressmen from separate states tour area
WEIRTON — A local Congressman and a peer from New York visited Cleveland Cliffs’ tinplate plant Saturday as part of a regional tour aimed at providing fellow lawmakers a perspective of issues and concerns for communities outside their own.
The former Weirton Steel mill was one of several places, including the West Virginia University Engineering Innovation Hub and two Moundsville power plants, toured by U.S. Reps. David McKinley, R-Wheeling: and Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam; through the Bipartisan Policy Center.
The center is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that hopes to promote cooperation and understanding between the nation’s two major political parties through its American Congressional Exchange program.
Jonathan Perman, founder and co-director of the program, said since it was begun in 2018, 23 pairs of Congress members have participated in such tours, with most visits planned for last year postponed because of the pandemic.
Perman said he had expected largely moderates from each party to volunteer for the program “but we have had members from the full political spectrum participate.”
“It’s a very good learning curve for me,” said Tonko, who noted it was his first visit to West Virginia though he has worked with McKinley in Congress co-chairing the House of Representatives’ Heritage Caucus.
The committee is behind legislation supporting the development of areas of cultural, historical or natural significance as National Heritage Areas, for which public and private money is available to promote tourism.
Tonko said the designation is one tool among others for economic recovery, noting the area he represents includes a number of steel mill towns working to reinvent themselves.
As chairman of the energy and commerce subcommittee on environment and climate change, he has introduced legislation supporting the use of cleaner energy sources, such as electric, solar and wind in domestic industries to reduce carbon emissions linked to global warming.
But McKinley, who is ranking member of the subcommittee on energy and climate change, said Saturday experts have confirmed such sources will be more costly for industries, which should be given more time to reduce emissions.
He noted current plans call for emissions to be reduced by 80 percent by 2030, which he sees as unworkable at a time when power plants still rely largely on fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil.
McKinley said with time, the plants could be downsized to reduce their emissions while adapting to other energy sources.
“I think West Virginia is in transition. We needed to diversify our economy a long time ago. But now we have a chance to reinvent ourselves,” he said, adding one avenue is the production of useful chemical compounds from natural gas.
McKinley said both he and Tonko are engineers and as such, appreciate the need for sound planning based on reliable information.
Noting solar panels are being produced in China, he said, “Let’s do the research so that can be done here.”
Brian James, general manager at Cleveland Cliffs, told the Congressmen they and other lawmakers can help domestic industries in at least two ways.
James said they can use tariffs and other measures to help them compete against foreign companies, which often are subsidized by their governments, and McKinley noted, aren’t required to comply with the same environmental regulations.
James added taxes on unsold inventory and capital improvements hurt businesses and discourage future investments.
Also on hand Saturday was Mark Glyptis, president of United Steelworkers Local 2911, who said at a time when much of the nation’s infrastructure needs repair or improvement, a domestic steel industry is essential and must be preserved.
Asked if the steel industry can play a role in the development of alternative energy, Glyptis said, “We can tie steel into energy as well and progress.”
He applauded McKinley, Tonko and others participating in the congressional exchange program.
“I feel we live in the greatest country in the world. To maintain that status, we need to work together no matter what our political beliefs are.”
“We have brilliant minds, and if we combine those highly intelligent minds for the good of the nation, it will benefit the people,” he added