A freshman congressman would like to sell Israel something western Pennsylvania and West Virginia have plenty of — coal.
U.S. Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) just returned from his first trip to Israel. He traveled there with 25 other members of Congress on a trip sponsored by AIPAC. An arm of the pro-Israel group, the American Israel Education Foundation, organized the trip.
McKinley will visit Temple Shalom in Wheeling Friday where he will speak to the congregation about his trip.
While in Israel, McKinley and his colleagues met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and leaders of the political opposition. They also sat down with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
But McKinley, a Wheeling businessman and civil engineer, took particular interest in meetings his group had with Israeli business leaders.
“As an engineer, I wanted to see how they generate their power,” McKinley said in an interview with the Chronicle. “They have done so much research there, especially around Tel Aviv. I was curious to see the level of entrepreneurism.”
At a dinner with Israeli business executives, which McKinley likened to “speed dating,” he met one utility executive in particular who discussed Israel’s growing use of coal as an energy source.
A major importer of natural gas, Israel had been receiving 40 percent of its gas from Egypt prior to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. Since then, persistent terrorist attacks on the main pipeline through Sinai have reduced the amount of gas Israel gets from its neighbor. The interim Egyptian government also has expressed a desire to reduce its exports to Israel.
More and more, therefore, Israel is turning to coal as a possible substitute, importing much of it from Australia, South Africa and Colombia.
Why not the United States McKinley asked, and specifically West Virginia?
“In a very short period of time Israel has had to switch their energy source to diesel and to coal because they don’t have nuclear facilities,” said McKinley, who sits on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. “They do have reserves of diesel fuel. I was trying to encourage [them] to reach out … I was saying what about West Virginia?”
Coal, as a source of energy, does have its critics in Israel. In 2009, the Ministry of Environmental Protection criticized a national infrastructure plan for the construction of two coal-powered electricity-generating units at the Rutenberg power plant in Ashkelon.
“The construction of a new coal-fired power plant in Israel would present a health and environmental hazard due to the high pollutant emissions and low energy efficiency of such a station compared to stations fired by natural gas,” according to a statement released by the ministry.
But McKinley suggested that West Virginia, where West Virginia University does extensive research into clean coal technology, could assist Israel in developing ways to reduce Greenhouse gases as it switches to greater coal use.
In fact, he said the current events in the Middle East, might generate new interest in coal.
“This turmoil in the Middle East will cause a lot of people to revisit how they generate energy and power,” he said.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)