Iron Fist

Joe Manchin’s Grip on Climate Legislation

Iron+Fist

Ellison Martin, Staff Writer

 In the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, five climate activists with the Sunrise Movement, a youth climate organization, engaged in a hunger strike in front of the White House starting on October 20th, 2021. On day eleven, two of the hunger strikers were close to death and taken to the emergency room,  forcing them to break their hunger strikes. Three of their fellow hunger strikers continued for a total of 14 days. According to the activists, they were on a hunger strike for climate justice, demanding that President Joe Biden and Congress take immediate climate action that matches the urgency and the scale of the climate emergency. But, in the end, the hunger of the climate activists was no match for one man’s hunger for coal trading profits in his bank account and fossil fuel industry donations in his campaign coffers. That man is Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a multimillionaire whose personal wealth comes from selling coal to coal-fired power plants, while his election campaigns are funded by the coal, oil, and gas industries.

 According to Bo Delp, Executive Director of the Texas Climate Jobs Project whose goal is to solve the climate crisis while creating millions of union jobs that sustain our families and communities, “Texas energy has the potential to be clean energy. We have more solar potential than any other state country. There are only four other countries in the world that can produce more wind energy than Texas. Texas is an important step to ensure that we, as a country, meet our climate goals. The reality is that Texas continues to mass-produce oil and gas. Our economy is dependent on oil and gas in this term.” 

“To make that potential into reality legislators need to focus on questions like— how can we help people who are impacted by climate change and people who have jobs in industries that are being disrupted by climate change and by newer forms of clean energy? To make sure that that transition has a foundation of justice, that people have justice when this economy continues to accelerate,” said Delp. There is one democrat that is keeping legislation that answers those key questions and making that possibility into actuality, Senator Joe Manchin.

There is one major legislation that the Democrats produced, the climate policy in the Reconciliation Bill, the Clean Electricity Performance Program. The Clean Electricity Performance Program is a $150 billion program, and its goal is to help big electricity corporations that use fossil fuels transition to renewable energy production by financial rewards. This is one of the most efficient ways to cut down carbon emissions and prevent our global temperature from increasing by 1.5 degrees Celsius or 34.7 degrees Fahrenheit. 

In a Senate where it is split Democrats have 50 votes and Republicans have 50 votes, Democrats need every Democratic Senator to vote on the party line.  Joe Manchin’s opposition is the biggest threat to the Clean Electricity Performance Program. Senator Manchin has corporations funding his campaigns and is not being responsive to his constituents’ needs. Manchin is a senator from West Virginia, from 2000 to 2004, Senator Manchin served as the Secretary of State. Senator Manchin has held various leadership positions on various organizations, such as the National Governors Association, the Chairman of the Southern States Energy Board, and the President of the Council of State Governments. Senator Manchin benefits from the coal industry in West Virginia, as it is coal industries that finance himself and his campaigns. In fact, Sen. Manchin has holdings valued at between $1 million and $5 million in Enersystems Inc., the coal brokerage business he founded, and last year, he made more than $491,000 from his Enersystems holdings, according to CNN Politics. That’s more than twice his $174,000 annual Senate salary. Thus the Clean Electricity Performance Program is a threat to his interests. 

Because of Manchin’s opposition to the Clean Electricity Performance Program, the program was cut to appease Sen. Manchin. This is a step back from what we need Legislators to do for a renewable future. According to Delp the first step for this future is, “Lawmakers at the local and state and federal need to come together to come up with solutions that really work,” and that step isn’t happening.

Photo by Newsflare. A group of climate activists protested against Senator Joe Manchin, to take action on the social spending bill outside a yacht club in Washington D.C., November 4, 2021.

Not only has Sen. Manchin impacted the Clean Electricity Performance Program, but he has threatened the entirety of the nation’s progress towards climate justice and a renewable future. During Cop 26, an international meeting between world leaders about Climate Change solutions and progress, President Joe Biden did not join 40 other countries in the pledge to end coal production and use. This limited progression is caused by Joe Manchin’s grip on climate change legislation. President Biden and Manchin wish to continue negotiations and find a balance for climate change legislation, so to sweeten the deal President Biden did not sign the pledge to stop the use and production of coal.

We need action. Even today people are devastated by climate change. In the wise words of Bo Delp, “Texas is being devastated by climate change. The state has been devastated by extreme weather events like the freeze earlier this year, as well as events like Hurricane Harvey,” he continued, “Where people lost their homes, lost their livelihoods, and some of them lost their lives. There’s a real sense of urgency to act because the state is being impacted by climate change every single day.”