Coal investor US Senator Joe Manchin III (D-WV) opposes his own political party’s clean energy program. And since not a single Republican will support the infrastructure bill that contains the program, Manchin has disproportionate power to sink the US plan to decarbonize in order to slow global warming and meet the Paris Agreement target of net-zero by 2050. Why does he oppose it? The Charleston Gazette-Mail spelled it out yesterday.
December 20 update: Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced on Fox News Sunday yesterday that he will not vote for the Build Back Better Framework, which contains crucial climate change provisions, citing concerns for inflation and the deficit:
Manchin’s sudden public announcement has gone down very badly with everyone apart from Republicans. The White House issued a statement that debunked Manchin’s two excuses for not supporting the bill. On inflation:
Senator Manchin claims that this change of position is related to inflation, but the think tank he often cites on Build Back Better — the Penn Wharton Budget Institute — issued a report less than 48 hours ago that noted the Build Back Better Act will have virtually no impact on inflation in the short term, and, in the long run, the policies it includes will ease inflationary pressures. Many leading economists with whom Senator Manchin frequently consults also support Build Back Better.
And on the deficit:
Senator Manchin cited deficit concerns in his statement. But the plan is fully paid for, is the most fiscally responsible major bill that Congress has considered in years, and reduces the deficit in the long run. The Congressional Budget Office report that the Senator cites analyzed an unfunded extension of Build Back Better. That’s not what the President has proposed, not the bill the Senate would vote on, and not what the President would support. Senator Manchin knows that: The President has told him that repeatedly, including this week, face to face.
Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) stated on CNN that Manchin should ask the people of West Virginia what they want:
According to today’s front-page story in West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette-Mail, headlined: “We need this so bad”: Build Back Better backers say bill would protect WV’s most vulnerable as Manchin Resists,” West Virginia citizen advocacy groups held many events last week urging quick passage of the legislation. The Gazette-Mail writes:
A September report by the independent economics consulting firm Analysis Group found a clean electricity payment program would result in an increase of 7.7 million jobs, a $907 billion economic boost and $154 billion more in increased tax revenue for federal, state and local governments by 2031.
Sanders also made the point about Manchin’s contradictory behavior about deficit concerns:
I also find it amusing that Sen. Manchin indicates his worry about the deficit after voting just this week for a military budget of $778 billion, four times greater than Build Back Better over 10 years and $25 billion more than the president requested.
Electrek’s Take: Manchin’s comments on Fox News contradict everything he’s said to the White House and to his own Democratic Party colleagues. At the very least, it’s bad politics to broadside your own party, and at most, he is putting the entire world’s efforts to fight the climate crisis in peril for his own selfish reasons.
Manchin brings to mind Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb student who ignited World War I by assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. One man’s actions created a devastating war that still resonates more than a hundred years later.
And Manchin, in one Fox News interview, unless he reverses course yet again, could damn future generations to lifetimes of environmental misery. Shame on him.
Manchin’s “official” reason
The $150 billion clean electricity program is a carrot and stick approach. It would reward utilities that switched from burning fossil fuels to clean energy, and penalize those that don’t.
Sam Runyon, Manchin’s spokesperson, wrote in an email to the New York Times:
Senator Manchin has clearly expressed his concerns about using taxpayer dollars to pay private companies to do things they’re already doing. He continues to support efforts to combat climate change while protecting American energy independence and ensuring our energy reliability.
Manchin’s reason via his spokesperson is nonsensical. Most US utilities are doing very little when it comes to transitioning to clean energy. They need both the carrot and stick. In January, Electrek reported:
Sierra Club analysts examined plans for 79 operating companies owned by 50 parent companies and assigned a score to every utility based on its plans to retire coal, stop constructing new gas plants, and aggressively build out new clean energy by 2030.
Sierra Club then provides a map of the US so you can see who’s succeeding and failing, and a search function to look up your utility.
Spoiler! There are a lot more D and F grades than A or B grades.
Manchin’s real reason
So what in the heck is going on with Manchin? Is he worried, as his fellow West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said, that the program is “designed to ultimately eliminate coal and natural gas from our electricity mix, and would be absolutely devastating for my state”?
Yes, the program is designed to eliminate coal and natural gas. But I really don’t think it’s because Manchin is mainly worried about job elimination. As I wrote in April:
I watched Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Cecil Roberts, president of US coal’s largest union, the United Mine Workers of America, discuss a possible transition from coal to renewables in Appalachia with the National Press Club yesterday. (You can watch the full discussion here.) It was an important and intriguing conversation. Coal workers are rightly concerned about future work and training as their industry declines, but I didn’t hear about any concrete road maps out of coal from Manchin.
Surely Manchin, of all people – the chair of the US Energy and Natural Resources Committee – should be able to speak definitively and comprehensively about renewable adoption and job creation, rather than vaguely repeating himself about the possibilities of carbon capture and sequestration. Even Roberts called for federal support for wind turbines and solar panels to be manufactured in Appalachia, and spells out a plan in the union’s new report (although it still leans heavily on coal).
And everyone knows – even Roberts – that coal is gasping its last hacking breath. Even Roberts is willing to transition to clean energy jobs! West Virginia voters support many provisions in the Build Back Better plan, including clean energy.
The real reason why Manchin won’t back clean energy?
Manchin gets a lot of money from fossil fuel companies that aren’t even in West Virginia. They own him.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail sums it up:
Employees and political action committees for out-of-state oil and gas companies — most of which are based in Texas — dwarfed contributions from in-state [West Virginia] individuals and political action committees by more than tenfold, according to the senator’s newly filed quarterly campaign finance report.
You can read the full list of examples reported by energy and environment reporter Mike Tony of the Gazette-Mail, but here are a couple of standout examples:
Manchin for West Virginia, the senator’s campaign committee, reported drawing just under $1.6 million in contributions in the quarter, leaving it with $5.38 million in cash on hand.
More than a quarter of that roughly $1.6 million came from the oil and gas industry. Just over $30,000 came from individuals and political action committees in West Virginia.
Manchin has made $4.35 million since 2012 from stock he owns in Enersystems Inc., the Fairmont-based coal brokerage he founded in 1988, according to his U.S. Senate financial disclosures. He has denied that his vested coal interests have influenced his policymaking that affects the coal industry. But he has declined to divest his holdings, saying his ownership is held in a blind trust and, therefore, avoids a conflict of interest.
So, that’s $400,000 coming from fossil fuels in just one quarter. And guess who the top recipient is overall of oil and gas, mining, and coal money, not just in the Senate, but in all of Congress? Manchin. (He’s No. 2 for utilities.)
I am mad as hell about this, and more than just a little bit scared. I don’t want to be dramatic, but it’s not good.
Let’s drill it down a bit (no pun intended): We are in the midst of a global climate emergency. China may be the No. 1 polluter overall, but the US is No. 2, and each person in America emits twice as much carbon as each person in China. Plus, the US has emitted more carbon than any other country – so this is the US’s problem to solve.
When Biden was elected, he immediately signed an executive order to have the US rejoin the Paris Agreement. He has stressed the importance of decarbonizing and has a plan. He vowed that the US will cut its emissions to 50% of 2005 levels by 2030.
Hope sprung from those declarations for those of us who know that the future of humanity is hanging in the balance. The infrastructure bill has me holding my breath. It’s hard for me to even look at the negotiation process.
The Biden clean energy program is fundamental to that plan. The whole world, not just the US, needs it. We can wait no longer.
And just weeks before the do-or-die COP26 summit in Glasgow, that plan is about to be derailed by one man.
One man’s greed is going to hurt the world’s entire population of 7.75 billion people. That’s not hyperbole: The respected medical journal the Lancet says “climate change is the greatest global health threat facing the world in the 21st century.”
Hope for a miracle.
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