Manchin, who pockets $500,000 per year from dirty coal, kills critical Biden climate deal
Sen. Joe Manchin has positioned himself on the wrong side of climate history with his refusal to back the environmental part of the Build Back Better Act. | Susan Walsh/AP

Last weekend, while the Biden administration tried to piece together a deal to pass its Build Back Better plan, the key climate part of the package – a multi-billion dollar program for clean electricity, was all but killed. This was thanks to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who told the White House that he will not support legislation that includes any type of clean electricity program.

Sen. Manchin, who made $500,000 last year from dirty coal company shares he owns, coupled his rejection of clean electricity with a claim that dropping use of fossil fuels would harm the energy independence of the U.S. and make climate change worse than it already is.

His vote, however, is critical to the passage of the clean electricity plan, which would require the support of every one of 50 Democratic and independent senators – plus the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, who is constitutionally authorized to break the tie that would result from 50 Republican senators voting the plan down.

Almost immediately after he announced his opposition, fellow Democrats didn’t hold back in condemning his decision. The Progressive Caucus declared on Twitter, “We have a moral obligation and a governing mandate to pass policy that addresses climate change.” The caucus has 96 members in the House of Representatives.

For at least a month, Democrats have joined demonstrations organized by myriad groups that voiced the demand, “No climate, no deal.” They’ve maintained that passage of the clean electricity program was important so that the president could go to the coming Glasgow Climate summit with a major climate plan under his belt.

In response to Manchin, Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, a strong supporter of the climate provisions in Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better plan, remarked, “Listen, my state is burning up. We’re losing our snowpack, the ocean’s acidifying, affecting our shellfish. This is code red.”

Accepting that Manchin can’t be moved but not wanting to give up entirely, Democratic senators are looking at other measures that would reduce carbon emissions. Among the things they’re examining is a carbon tax. How such a tax would work is that polluting culprits would pay a fee for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit; it’s considered by both defenders of the environment and economists as a clear cut way to reduce pollution.

“I’ve had a carbon pricing bill on my desk for years, just waiting for the right time,” Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, the other Oregon senator, told the press last Saturday. Supporters of the tax note that now that Manchin has all but killed the clean electricity plan in the Biden package, it’s time for the carbon tax to be explored and implemented.

The White House, meanwhile, is struggling to come up with alternatives to the clean electricity program, which would have rewarded companies that stopped burning fossil fuels and switched to solar and wind energy. They’re scrambling to produce new plans by Oct. 31, in time for Glasgow’s COP 26. They said they’re still in discussions with lawmakers to establish a final agenda.

The choice Manchin has made is another example of how the power of corporate money in U.S. elections is enormous. In the Senator’s case, his decision to protect dirty coal comes at a time when his state is already buckling from the effects of climate change.

An Oct. 18 story in the New York Times noted how swelling streams after unusual rainstorms are overflowing and causing severe damage to homes throughout West Virginia. Raw sewage from the town of Rowlesburg regularly spills into the Cheat River, the Times reported. The article added that no state in the country is now exposed to more floods than West Virginia. To exacerbate the issue, most West Virginians living in a mountainous state, unlike people in other exposed states, have little room to relocate as local waterways come incrementally closer to endangering both their homes and lives.

The Times reported data from a foundation that looks more closely at flood risk than does the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). A 100-year flood, the type of flood occurring frequently now because of global warming, would render 61 percent of power stations in West Virginia inoperable, according to the First Street Foundation, a non-profit group that gauges flood risk across the country. The percentage of roads in the state that could be inoperable would be 46 percent while the percentage of schools that would become inoperable would be 38 percent. Some 57 percent of fire stations in the state are at risk of becoming inoperable after such a flood, the data shows.

Manchin’s position that West Virginia would suffer if fossil fuels are replaced is a position that says, because the state is so coal rich, the best possible future is one based on the coal economy. Environmentalists refuse to accept that position; they see it as a stance that will result in both short and long-term disaster – not just for their state but for the country and the planet.

Manchin, they conclude, is using his argument as a cover for his profitable but corrupt deals with the state’s coal companies. Dirty coal puts half a million in his pocket per year. It’s hard for him to give that up.


Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake is a writer and production manager, responsible for the daily assembly of the People's World home page. He has earned awards from the IWPA and ILCA, and his articles have appeared in publications such as Workday Minnesota, EcoWatch, and Earth First News. He has covered issues including the BP oil spill in New Orleans and the 2015 U.N. Climate Conference in Paris.

He lives in Pennsylvania with his girlfriend and their cats. He enjoys wine, books, music, and nature. In his spare time, he reviews music, creates artwork, and is working on several books and digital comics.