CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Running for a 19th two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat Nick J. Rahall said Friday that he believes the coal industry will remain the main cog in Southern West Virginia's economy.
"Current problems in the coalfields are my number one issue. The fear of being unemployed in the future is the biggest problem," Rahall said during a meeting with Charleston Gazette editors. "The coal industry will be the mainstay of our economy."
Rahall represents the 3rd Congressional District. His Republican opponent in this campaign, Raleigh County state Sen. Rick Snuffer, did not attend the meeting.
Besides coal, Rahall said, he also focuses on other industries in his area, including natural gas, timbering, health care, transportation, technology and tourism.
Today, Rahall is the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. If the Democrats win back a majority in the House, Rahall would become committee chairman.
Rahall said he and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., wrote the legislation that kept Essential Air Service (EAS) funding in Federal Airport Administration legislation that passed Congress earlier this year.
Extended for four years, EAS funding subsidizes small rural airports. Rahall said it's critical to keeping airports open in Beckley, Lewisburg, Morgantown and Clarksburg/Bridgeport. A budget passed by the Republican-led House cut that funding, but the final version of the budget restored the funding.
"EAS keeps minimum levels of flight serving these airports. Many of them are surrounded by industrial parks and other economic developments, which need airports," Rahall said.
Rahall praised first-term Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., for bucking his party and supporting the restoration of the EAS funding.
Asked about his relationship with the other two West Virginians in the House of Representatives, Rahall said he's worked well with McKinley. He did not mention the state's other House member, Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito.
As for the bill to keep federal transportation money coming to the states, Rahall noted that the bill doesn't cover as much as previous ones, something he attributed to the intransigence of House Republicans.
"We were not able to get a six-year transportation bill like we have had for years. But we did get a two year and three month extension of transportation legislation with current funding levels," he said. "That was a victory in today's political climate."
The budget extension, Rahall said, does not allow any new earmarks, because the current Republican House leadership ruled them illegal.