Serving the Ninth at Energy and Commerce

Committees are the engines that drive Congress. At the committee level, Members of Congress learn about issues, carefully consider legislation, and conduct oversight to see what works in the Federal Government and what doesn’t.

Serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as I do, means a busy schedule. We have a broad jurisdiction that covers policy areas of great importance to average families. In my work on the committee, I look for ways to improve the lives and livelihoods of Southwest Virginians and Americans across the country.

For example, a February 15 Subcommittee on Health hearing with new Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar provided a forum to encourage the Trump Administration on priorities for health care in the Ninth District.

These hearings to oversee the executive branch are vital to our system of checks and balances. Americans need to know that their laws are being faithfully executed, and whether they need to be changed. But these hearings are also venues to seek cooperation.

Many from both sides of the aisle probed Secretary Azar’s intent on dealing with the opioid crisis, and I made it clear to the Secretary that we must solve this problem working together.

I further asked Secretary Azar about telehealth, a valuable tool in rural communities. It can make a huge difference for people, and I have introduced bills that would increase its accessibility. Outdated reimbursement policies, however, are preventing telehealth from expanding. Secretary Azar pledged his cooperation with Congress in identifying barriers to access in the law that can be removed.

I followed up with questions about neonatal abstinence syndrome in newborns. HHS and states have worked together to address this problem, and I encouraged him to continue looking for ways to cooperate with the states to deal with this problem.

We’ve heard from a durable medical equipment supplier in Southwest Virginia who has problems with reimbursement rates in rural areas. Delivery of these important services and equipment obviously is more difficult in rural areas than in urban cities, and reimbursement should not be the same if we expect our rural citizens to be properly served. A rule is pending at HHS that would improve this situation and help people like this supplier, who provides valuable services, and I urged the Secretary to release the rule quickly.

I was also encouraged by a hearing of the Subcommittee on Environment on February 14. While I am not a member of this subcommittee, I attended and asked questions because the topic, New Source Review (NSR) permitting, affects many businesses in Southwest Virginia.

NSR developed from the Clean Air Act, which required permission for owners looking to build or modify emissions sources such as factories or power plants. The intent is to protect air quality, something no one opposes. However, the process has become so lengthy and burdensome that it deters some facility owners from updating their properties in ways that would actually increase efficiency and reduce emissions.

At a factory I toured in Southwest Virginia several years ago, there was a ramp up and over one part of a conveyor belt and another part with a loop in between. The head honcho asked if I was curious about the conveyor belt loop to nowhere, and I said yes. He responded that because the conveyor belt also was a part of their Environmental Protection Agency-covered emission system, they couldn’t change the conveyor belt without a lot of hoopla from the bureaucracy, so they just worked around it instead of making their system more efficient.

When such a facility isn’t growing in efficiency, it loses competitiveness, which is bad for competition.

When a facility is a power generator, those inefficiencies mean higher rates for consumers. This state of affairs doesn’t truly guard air quality or treat people fairly.

I’ve heard from people in the Ninth District affected in this way by NSR, and I introduced two bills to streamline the permitting process. I came away from the Subcommittee on Environment hearing even more certain that we must act in a thoughtful, narrow way to improve permitting while protecting the environment.

As you can see, E&C has a lot on its plate. We have more coming, such as hearings on legislation to address the opioid crisis. Some of these challenges are formidable, but I think we can work together to produce solutions that will be good for people in Southwest Virginia and beyond.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at