West Virginia’s state and federal Republican leaders are ready to repeal health care and environmental regulations as the party nears takeover of the White House, Congress, the state Legislature and a majority of the statewide elected offices.
At the top of the Republicans’ list of targets is the Affordable Care Act — commonly referred to as Obamacare — along with environmental rules regulating coal mining and the pollutants that result from burning coal and disposing of the remaining ash.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said Monday in Charleston that a vote to repeal the ACA would be an immediate priority, but she admitted that developing a Republican replacement to President Barack Obama’s signature health care law that gave millions of people health insurance for the first time could take longer.
“We will repeal Obamacare in the first 30 days,” Capito said. “Well, we’ll set it in motion in January, and then we will have a transition and we will move to a replacement vehicle.
“Obamacare is going to fold under its own weight anyway, and it needs to be fixed,” Capito added.
Capito and other Republican lawmakers have suggested they will keep some of the most popular portions of that law, like the requirement that insurance companies cover people with pre-existing health conditions, but it remains unclear if that portion of the law can exist without the mandate that all people purchase some form of insurance.
Capito and the state’s growing list of Republican leaders held a news conference Monday to denounce Obama’s policies and to call for the immediate repeal of many of the laws and executive orders the president put in place over the past eight years.
West Virginia’s three Republican congressmen — Rep. David McKinley, Rep. Alex Mooney and Rep. Evan Jenkins — also were in attendance, as was Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia House Speaker Tim Armstead, Auditor-elect JB McCuskey, Agriculture Commissioner-elect Kent Leonhardt and Secretary of State-elect Mac Warner.
The gathering was somewhat of a victory lap for the West Virginia Republican Party, which has continued to gain political power through recent elections as the electorate has empowered a party that, for decades, operated in the minority.
McKinley, who is chairman of the congressional coal caucus, said his focus will be on ending a long-awaited stream protection rule from the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement that would require mining companies to conduct more stream monitoring and to pay for more environmental restoration.
Environmental groups have criticized the stream protection rule for not banning mining activities within 100 feet of streams.
“That would be priority number one, rolling that provision back,” McKinley said. “The stream protection rule has to be stopped, because that would curtail most coal mining in this country.”
McKinley also listed the rollback of rules on coal ash from power plants and a bill to save unionized miners’ pensions and health care benefits as some of his top objectives.
“Those are the top three issues that we think are going to affect the lives of people in West Virginia,” McKinley said.
Morrisey and Capito discussed the various avenues Republicans might take to do away with the Clean Power Plan, which was key to Obama’s effort to combat human-induced climate change by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases being released from power plants.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we can start to hear some really positive things shortly after President Trump takes office,” Morrisey said.
At the state level, Armstead said he is looking forward to “unraveling some of this overreach from Washington,” which he said has “had tentacles into the state of West Virginia and the state government.”
“I think the new administration will give us some tremendous opportunities to be able to move forward,” Armstead said.
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