West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin: ‘I’m Never an Obstacle’

April 22, 2021 by Kate Michael
Joe Manchin

WASHINGTON — West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is used to being an energy advocate. Sure, he represents coal country, but he has fashioned himself as an “all of the above” energy proponent who encourages clean and renewable energy, including solar and wind in landmark energy legislation — as well as fossil fuels with reduced carbon emissions.

But when it comes to President Biden’s energy agenda, including a clean electricity standard that would push the U.S. electricity sector to net-zero carbon emissions by 2035, the jury remains out over whether he’s an advocate or an obstacle. 

“I’m never an obstacle; it’s just the discussions where we have to come together and agree,” Manchin told Axios during a conversation on the renewed promise of climate solutions. 

Still, with the Senate evenly split between parties, Manchin’s unwillingness to simply tow the Democratic party line is often seen as a hurdle to his Democratic colleagues who believed this was their year to push through sweeping green legislation.

And while Manchin’s record shows he does care about the climate, he’s pragmatic about other pressing concerns as well, including the livelihood of his constituents. So he pushes for a cleaner energy mix while reiterating that fossil fuels will continue to play a significant role in America’s energy portfolio for decades to come. 

“It’s called global climate, it’s not called North American climate,” Manchin told Axios. “So if you eliminated every morsel of fossil being used for energy in America, you still wouldn’t change hardly anything with climate because the rest of the world has an appetite more so now than ever.”

“Elimination is not the way to go,” he doubled down. “If you really care about the climate, you had better make sure that we have research… that creates innovative tech that’s going to give us the answers… Innovation is the only way we can help Mother Earth and clean up the climate.”

And that innovation doesn’t include creative ways to levy carbon taxes and distribute revenues like the suggested carbon tax-and-dividend supported by backers of the Green New Deal which would, in theory, return all carbon tax revenue to taxpayers in monthly “Green Checks.”

“The bottom line is, if you’re not going to fix the problem, why do you just want to tax people and raise the price?” Manchin asked. “Putting a higher tax on something is not going to fix it unless you just want to tax it out of obliteration.” He insisted that he’s not for taxing, but for fixing America’s energy and climate problems through innovation and technology.

And while he claims he’s not an obstacle, he’s also not in favor of using reconciliation for passing legislation — energy legislation included. Democrats are considering using the reconciliation process to pass Biden’s infrastructure investment package, but Manchin stands resolute that regular order is the way to go. 

“In the Senate, we’re the deliberate body, supposed to cool things off,” he said. “We expect partisanship to be running hot and heavy in the House, but when it comes to the Senate, it’s expected and designed for us to come together and find a pathway forward.”

While he believes that an infrastructure package is the biggest piece of legislation this Congress could actually pass, in terms of climate and energy policy, he also said he felt it should be separated and presented as conventional infrastructure only to help it pass in a bipartisan manner.

Biden’s American Job Plan, which is an infrastructure plan with many addendums, also has hefty provisions to create jobs and raise pay for home care workers, gives targeted aid to manufacturers and small businesses across industries, and establishes a “technology directorate,” all of which aren’t traditional infrastructure concerns. 

“We have to continue to work in the world of reality, not the world of aspirational hopes,” Manchin said.

“If we can’t come together… on the need for roads, bridges, water, sewer, railroads, highways, transportation, mass transit, internet connectivity — all the things that we know need to be done for us to be able to compete in the 21st-century economy, then God help us all.”

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