Peter Dykstra: Joe the Bummer

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When the Democrats gained their razor-thin control of the Senate, they made Senior Senator Joe Manchin Chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.


Yes, the party that would fix the climate handed the keys over to Captain Coal.

Which is why it should not be a surprise to any sentient being that Manchin, not the Republicans, is President Biden’s biggest obstacle to an infrastructure plan that aggressively pursues clean energy.

Climate change negotiating points 

When Manchin, then West Virginia Governor, ran to fill the unexpired term of the expired Robert Senator Robert Byrd in 2010, he famously aired an ad in which he literally shot a hole in a copy of a cap-and-trade emissions bill then under consideration.

Not quite a full-fledged climate denier, Manchin chose an interesting tack this year, joining with coal state Republican John Barrasso in urging President Biden to tackle the real climate killer: trees. Better forest management, they said in a June letter to the White House, could go a long way to curing our climate.

It’s more bothersome that the climate and clean energy funds in the massive $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill may be there only as expendable negotiating points. So too, some say, are funds to correct the disgraceful state of lead in drinking water pipes.

West Virginia’s Big Coal politics 

To understand Joe Manchin’s role in all this requires a deeper dive into West Virginia politics. When Republican Shelley Moore Capito won her House seat in 2011, she broke a Democratic monopoly on West Virginia House seats. Now, all of the state’s congresspeople are Republican.

With a lifetime 17% score on the League of Conservation Voters’ National Environmental scorecard, Capito is middle-of-the-pack for Republicans. Manchin’s 54% score puts him at the bottom of the Dems’ pond. Both have been outspoken on PFAS contamination, since Parkersburg, West Virginia, is one of the nation’s PFAS hotspots.

The state’s current governor is quite literally larger than life. At six-feet seven and a lot of weight, Jim Justice is the state’s only billionaire. You’ll never guess how he made his money (coal!). Like Manchin and others, he’s not convinced on all that climate science stuff.

In 2016, Justice switched parties, from Republican to Democrat, and won the governor’s seat handily. He promptly switched back to the GOP. And in 2020, won reelection by a nearly two-to-one margin.

Have you figured out West Virginia politics yet?

Neither have I. Other than the permanent servility to Big Coal, there doesn’t seem to be any.

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist and can be reached at pdykstra@ehn.org or @pdykstra.

His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher, Environmental Health Sciences.

Banner photo: Sen. Joe Manchin (left) speaks to Navy Vice Adm. Michael M. Gilday, director of the Joint Staff. (Credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)