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US Senator Joe Manchin. Image courtesy of Third Way Think Tank (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license).

Climate Change

Joe Manchin Says F*** You To Cleantech, Turns Back On BBB

Say it isn’t so, Joe! The Senator has a long history of fighting climate action — how can cleantech solutions now find a place in the mainstream?

Critical components of the Biden administration’s plan for an all-electric future have suffered a major setback, as Senator Joe Manchin (D-Coal) announced he would not support the $2 trillion Build Back Better (BBB) plan. The BBB act would have jumpstarted the US trajectory away from fossil fuels and would have incurred less chance that industries would challenge new climate rules in court.

With Manchin’s dismissal of the BBB, billions of dollars in federal support for building charging stations and encouraging consumers to buy electric vehicles (EVs) seem to have evaporated. The bill, which the Biden administration has vowed to resurrect after the first of the year, would have saved consumers up to $12,500 in taxes for purchasing an EV.

A House version of the BBB had been sent to the Senate for approval. It assigned $555 billion to shifting the nation to renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar power, and away from fossil fuels, like West Virginia coal. Moreover, the BBB would have imposed stiff penalties on electric utilities that continued to burn coal and natural gas.

Clearly, those renewable energy enhancements and fossil fuel limitations made Joe Manchin squirm.

Business Insider has drawn upon Goldman Sachs’ new adjusted growth projections to calculate the loss of the reconciliation measure — it could deprive the US economy of $60 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) over the next three quarters. It will hamper the nation’s fragile recovery. Manchin must accept that responsibility.

Manchin’s Behind-the-Scenes Influences

What forces prodded Joe Manchin to make his ultimate decision about rejecting the watered-down BBB?

  • He received more money from oil, coal, and gas industries than any other US Senator in the current election cycle.
  • The Koch network pushed against the bill with their massive media might.
  • The US Chamber of Commerce questioned if job creation would really be a lasting benefit.
  • West Virginia’s coal lobby worked diligently to kill off the measure.

Oh yeah, and Senator Joe Manchin made $492,000 last year from a family coal company he cofounded. The Washington Post writes, “his share of the firm is worth between $1 million and $5 million.”

Joe Manchin caricature. Image courtesy of DonkeyHotey (CC BY license)

Bill McKibben Lashes Out at Manchin

“Pathetic.” “Feckless.” “Devastating.”

Bill McKibben of 350.org used those and other adjectives to describe Manchin’s announcement. “Manchin didn’t just derail Joe Biden’s legislative agenda,” McKibben says, “he also kept the President from using another suite of powers that belong to the executive alone.”

Biden may have to to switch his policy maneuvering to that very executive authority now in order to advance his environmental initiatives. Will those actions be strong enough to ensure that half of new US cars sold by the end of the decade be electric or plug-in hybrids, for example? With BBB, about 20% of auto sales by 2026 would have been partially or fully electrified.

What was lost, says McKibben, was “momentum for a different kind of country,” one which polls say has support of most of the people in the country. However, McKibben argues, “we’re past the point where anyone takes actual majorities of Americans seriously.”

Some of the Biden administration’s recent and confusing decrees can be now be traced to trying to kowtow to Manchin. The Biden administration:

  • campaigned with an agenda to stop new leases for oil and gas on public lands but approved the largest offshore lease deal in history in November
  • refused to review the Line 3 tar-sands pipeline across Minnesota — which is similar in size and crude carrying capacity to the Keystone XL pipeline, which the Obama-Biden Administration blocked

McKibben is not alone in his condemnation of Manchin. The Washington Post outlines how “partisan tribalism, cultural issues, and an attachment to the vanishing coal industry” create an attitude of “paradoxical hostility to government” in today’s West Virginia voter. Future Biden administration compromises, they continue, could reduce the BBB’s “ambitious climate initiatives, which would move the country away from dirty energy sources such as coal.”

Skepticism on the part of the West Virginian voter may not actually be grounded in the reality of what the BBB would look like on a local level. Moreover, Joe Manchin is no political novice — he recognizes that government can unalterably improve the daily lives of people in West Virginia. That means he will need to engage in some clever and well-designed marketing if he wants to improve his national reputation in 2022 through continued work on the Build Back Better bill.

Biden’s Climate Action Must Take a New Direction

New limits on tailpipe emissions signify the Biden administration’s most significant action to date to mitigate the climate crisis.

The US standards for model years 2023 to 2026, signed this week by EPA Administrator Michael Regan, require that cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks release an average of 161 grams of carbon dioxide per mile by 2026. That’s equivalent to about 55 mpg by 2026, according to laboratory testing. The Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chevrolet Bolt, and Ford Mustang Mach-E were on display as Regan made the announcement about the new rule. No Teslas were in sight, however, as the all-electric carmaker does not run union shops.

“That’s not to say we’re not going to continue to fight tirelessly for those incentives that are in the Build Back Better proposal,” he said. “But, nevertheless, we believe we’ve proposed a rule that’s doable.” The rule will prevent an estimated 3.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next three decades, the agency estimates, which is equal to shutting down more than 700 coal plants for a year. The Transportation Department is in the midst of writing a companion rule aiming to improve the fuel efficiency of cars built between 2024 and 2026.

Despite oppositional moaning from various constituent groups, Ray Curry, head of the United Auto Workers, was still optimistic that Congress would approve tax breaks for union-made electric vehicles to soften the blow, despite Manchin’s opposition. “We still believe those EV tax credits will be available for our union-made products; we really do believe that,” Curry said outside EPA headquarters.

Profits Over Public Service

Manchin accumulated his wealth by selling waste coal from abandoned mines to a state power plant, one that pollutes heavily. He is apparently making about half a million dollars a year on this company while in the Senate. If that’s not a conflict of interest, what is?

Featured image courtesy of Third Way Think Tank (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license)

 
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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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