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.
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!
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 bad.
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…
Read More: The real reason Joe Manchin is sabotaging the US clean energy plan