Manchin Gets Candid About Energy and Climate in the 117th Congress

February 4, 2021 by Kate Michael

WASHINGTON — The Biden Administration’s priorities for clean energy, climate, and infrastructure will necessitate some ambitious legislation which may be problematic in the closely divided 117th Congress.

One Democratic Senator will undoubtedly be the linchpin playing a decisive role in shaping the administration’s climate policies.

Incoming Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., spoke to the non-profit Bipartisan Policy Center about opportunities to promote clean energy, address climate change, and most importantly, how to work across the aisle in the nation’s current political environment.

Manchin, who calls himself a “moderate-centrist” that is “fiscally responsible and socially compassionate,” offered six key takeaways as part of a candid BPC fireside chat.

Relationships are the secret to bipartisanship. 

“Let’s get a set of facts we agree to,” Manchin said. “When you have people philosophically and ideologically in two different worlds on the same committee, that committee doesn’t usually work well.” 

Manchin offered that the reason he and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, were able to work well together in the last Congress, ultimately passing the Great American Outdoors Act and the American Energy Innovation Act, was because they developed a friendship and promoted friendly staff interactions.

“You have to build relationships on trust,” he said. “I’m not playing games. I never did like games.” 

Economics is largely responsible for the national divide. 

“It’s all economics,” Manchin said. “People want to be able to take care of themselves and provide for their families.” To that end, he believes all government policies should work to help Americans support themselves. 

“If you want to know why we have the political divide we have today, look at rural v. urban; red state v. blue state,” he said. “I understand it. A lot of Democrats don’t understand it. And that’s why we’ve lost the rural vote.” 

“If you ask people in West Virginia, they feel like … now the people that did the heavy lifting for the last century — our energy independence is because of the work they’ve done — now we’re not good enough; we’re not clean enough. Well, we’re not going to be left behind.” 

Let the market work, but if we’re going to intervene, carrots beat sticks.

Manchin, who has always strongly defended his state’s coal industry, does believe that a transition away from fossil fuels is happening. 

“The transition is happening. We lost more coal jobs under Trump than previously,” he said, admitting that demand drives American markets. “The market has always taken off where consumers wanted it to,” he added. “The consumer wants a cleaner environment. Markets are changing.”

But he doesn’t believe it should be taxes that drive that change. He prefers a focus on investment and innovation as a shift away from carbon pricing and emissions taxes. 

Additionally, he called for money devoted to the maturing of alternate fuel sources, like hydrogen, solar, or geothermal, to be pushed toward helping the people who lost their jobs as a result of a fuel transition. “It’s a whole infrastructure,” he said. 

As the nation’s energy mix has changed, he wants to ensure that traditional energy communities are given new opportunities to thrive. “We put $35 billion in the last bill into research. We put our money where our mouth is.”

The nation needs to remain energy independent.

When it comes to the nation’s energy future, Manchin firmly believes in self-reliance.

“We know what can happen when we put all of our eggs in someone else’s basket… We have to be self-reliant, and we cannot [be energy independent] by elimination. We must do it with innovation,” he said, supporting a mix of wind, solar, renewables, and fossil fuels, all used “in the cleanest fashion humanly possible.” 

“To those who say ‘No more fossil fuels,’ I say that’s not right. There is global demand.”

While fossil fuel consumption in the U.S. is falling, he has suggested using “the trading power of the strongest market — the U.S. market” to keep coal in the mix, as well as prioritizing research and development for carbon capture and sequestration technology.

There isn’t unanimous consent on rejoining the Paris Climate Accord. 

Manchin has famously criticized the Paris Climate Accord and isn’t keen to rejoin the agreement as he believes it is onerous on the U.S. But he insists that he would be willing to discuss the possibility, should support for the treaty be brought to the Senate for discussion.

“If they want to talk about fixing the climate in a responsible way, I’ll do it,” he said. “But if they want to penalize me? No.

“Everybody should be singing out of the same hymnal,” Manchin argued, suggesting that he wouldn’t support the Accord until it was fairer to the United States.

As far as Manchin is concerned, the filibuster isn’t going anywhere. 

“I’m not going to bust the filibuster,” Manchin declared. “There’s a process. I’m not going down that path and destroying this place. The filibuster [exists] so the minority has input.” 

In addition to his dedication to preserving the filibuster, Manchin lamented the Biden Administration’s poor start toward bipartisanship as it kicked off its ambitious agenda. He suggested that, had infrastructure been a first priority instead of stimulus, there might have been a chance for solidarity moving forward.

“Infrastructure brings us all together; We all have a bad road, a bad bridge… and other infrastructure needs,” he said. But prioritizing stimulus funding, while important, sets lawmakers at odds. 

“Should it be $1.9 trillion or nothing?” he asked, suggesting that on this divisive issue it seemed harder to come to a compromise. “We can get a trillion-dollar bill tonight, but that’s not what my side wants. My side wants $1.9… For some reason, we take on the most difficult subjects and beat ourselves, and there’s nothing left. You have basically defined insanity.”

“I’m determined to make this [Congress] bipartisan,” Manchin insisted. “If we go off the rails, we aren’t coming back [at least] for two years.”

“Senators and Congress need to hear… If you want us to work in a bipartisan way, speak out. But if what you want is extreme government, that’s what you’ll get.” 

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