Joe Manchin, the erstwhile senator from West Virginia, surprised his critics today when he announced he has nominated Bill McKibben for the Congressional Medal of Distinction. The announcement was unexpected, since McKibben has recently lambasted Manchin for his relentless pursuit of personal financial gain while serving in office.
McKibben based his remarks on a recent investigative report by the New York Times, which shows “Manchin has devoted his entire career in public service to keeping one particularly filthy power plant in operation, one that uses a low-grade coal mixed with clay called ‘gob.’ He created his business while a state lawmaker in anticipation of the Grant Town plant, which has been the sole customer for his gob for the past 20 years, according to federal data.
At key moments over the years, Mr. Manchin used his political influence to benefit the plant. He urged a state official to approve its air pollution permit, pushed fellow lawmakers to support a tax credit that helped the plant, and worked behind the scenes to facilitate a rate increase that drove up revenue for the plant — and electricity costs for West Virginians.”
McKibben says the report by Times correspondents Christopher Flavelle and Julie Tate “is remarkable in its depiction of a single-mindedly venal human, who obtained his Maserati and his yacht on the wheezing lungs of his constituents.” Ouch!
McKibben’s barbs seem to have hit home. On Friday, April 1, Manchin took to the floor of the Senate to tell his colleagues he has seen the light. His press secretary, Helen Waite, told reporters afterwards the senator came to work in a troubled frame of mind after the New York Times exposé and the McKibben commentary were published. He ensconced himself in his office, calling out occasionally for data on carbon emissions, wastewater pollution, fine particulate matter, and the levels of toxic chemicals in the slag ponds where coal ash is stored.
After several days of intense study, Manchin emerged from his office a changed man. He told staffers he is ashamed and embarrassed by his actions over the years. He muttered something about reimbursing the citizens of West Virginia for their losses. At $1 million per voter, the amount needed would be a drop in the bucket compared to the money the fossil fuel industry has given Manchin in campaign contributions.
“Senator Manchin feels he has misled the people of West Virginia for decades in order to enrich himself,” Waite told the press. He is now personally contacting all the other senator and representatives in Congress to urge them to sever their relations with fossil fuel companies. Manchin himself has removed the CEO of ExxonMobil from his speed dial and placed an order for a Tesla to being making up for his sins.
He has penned an open letter to Bill McKibben thanking the founder of 350.org for showing him the path out of fossil fuel darkness into the green energy light.
“Senator Manchin plans to advocate for a national carbon fee that will level the playing field and drive investment in zero carbon energy such as wind, solar, and geothermal systems. He has written to President Biden to encourage him to use the Defense Production Act to increase the manufacturing of heat pumps and materials to make our homes and office buildings more energy efficient,” Waite says.
He even texted Greta Thunberg to say, “From now on, no more blah, blah, blah from me,” she added.
The Senator has been in touch with his crony, Charles Koch, to ask him to forswear the use of fossil fuels for energy production or to manufacture more of the plastics that are drowning the Earth in petrochemical pollution. Next, he will call on Tyson Foods and others to support plant based foods instead of the inhumane factory farms Americans rely on for their daily ingestion of animal protein.
Waite told reporters the essay by Bill McKibben helped the senator to see there are realistic methods available to achieve a low carbon economy, one which protects the Earth for generations unborn. “Somethings are more important than money,” she said. Manchin himself has often been compared to other great Americans such as Professor Irwin Corey, Madonna, and Charles Nelson Reilly.
For his part, Bill McKibben tells CleanTechnica he is delighted his words have had such an impact. “I don’t much care about awards,” he said, “although the Congressional Medal of Distinction is a high honor, one that I will treasure always.” When contacted by a CleanTechnica staff writer for a comment about the historical significance of the award, Manchin said, “Go to Helen Waite.” He’s not only West Virginia’s favorite son, he’s also one helluva (wealthy) guy!