Manchin Likely Dooms Climate Legislation for 2022

Manchin Likely Dooms Climate Legislation for 2022

In a stunning turn of events, Democratic leaders learned last Thursday that West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, the decisive vote in a 50-50 Senate where Republicans have refused to work with the White House on climate legislation, now says he will no longer support the climate provisions he negotiated in the Senate Budget Reconciliation bill headed to the Senate floor this month. Manchin argues that he wants to wait and see where the July inflation report stands, and where the overall economy stands if interest rates keep rising. Democratic leaders don’t want to risk waiting that long and will instead try to pass (with Manchin’s support) a budget bill that lowers prescription drug pricing for seniors, deferring climate and clean energy legislation for now. While Manchin insisted he might still consider supporting some investments on fighting climate change and raising some taxes, further negotiations would make it nearly impossible to pass a bill before September 30, the deadline for using the process known as budget reconciliation.

PBS: What Sen. Joe Manchin’s rejection of new spending means for the climate change fight, July 15, 2022.

Already a far cry from its former Build Back Better (BBB) scale and shape, the most recent bill would have taxed businesses that emit methane and contained hundreds of billions in clean energy tax credits. Last year, Manchin, who has made millions from his family’s coal business over the years, helped slash even bolder provisions fighting climate change and stimulating clean energy growth.

VICE: Inside the Blockade of Joe Machin’s Coal Profits, June 12, 2022.

MSNBC: New Report Investigates Manchin’s Coal Ties As He Haggles Over Build Back Better, October 25, 2021.

Why This Matters

President Biden’s BBB was the Democrat’s best chance to address the climate crisis while the House and Senate remained in their control. With midterm elections fast approaching and the expected loss of the House, the odds of Biden fulfilling his climate promises during his term just got steeper.

For the people of West Virginia, Manchin’s failure to support climate legislation when it all came down to one vote will be especially destructive. Last week, the state, along with neighboring Virginia, was pummeled by another bout of extreme weather as torrential rain and severe flooding tore through communities, destroying homes and livelihoods. Flooding in West Virginia has become increasingly common and severe, particularly in light of climate change. Last May, Governor Jim Justice requested a disaster declaration from President Biden in response to an earlier flood, and in 2016 a thousand year downpour” killed 23 people.

Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University, called the West Virginia Senator "a modern-day villain, who drives a Maserati, lives on a yacht, courtesy of the coal industry, and is willing to see the world burn as long as it benefits his near-term investment portfolio.”

The YEARS Project: Conflict of Interest | Senator Joe Manchin’s Coal-Fired Agenda, August 17, 2021.

Hope And Rage

By Friday morning, many of Manchin’s Democratic colleagues expressed outrage at his latest flip-flop. In a tweet, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) said that "Sen. Manchin’s refusal to act [on climate change] is infuriating” and that it made him wonder why the West Virginia Senator is "Chair of the ENR [Energy and Natural Resources Committee].”

The White House pledged to use its full executive authorities to address climate change if Congress did not pass legislation. Clearly, the White House and Majority Leader Schumer want to pass what they can pass this month, and depend on Manchin’s support to do it.

It is difficult to depend on a vote from West Virginia to pass a climate package, as Manchin represents America's foremost coal state and is likely the last Democrat to win a seat in Congress from a state where twice, West Virginia voters were Donald Trump's biggest, most dependable backers. Democrats haven't carried the state in presidential races since 1996. The "50-50 Democratic majority" is an oxymoron and the smallest majority since 2001-2002. It is, by definition, a barely workable majority. Of 50 Senate Republicans, including many who argue they support climate action, not a single Republican vote has been in play on this historic climate package -- not even Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) who represents a blue state that hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, was an author of climate legislation as recently as 2010, and still opposes the BBB legislation. Other blue state Republicans -- like Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA), or Ron Johnson (R-WI) -- likewise oppose BBB. It makes these mid-term Senate races, including those in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, even more important.

Climate leaders insist they will keep fighting. In a tweet, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) said: "Rage keeps me from tears. Resolve keeps me from despair. We will not give up.”

PBS: How Democrats are feeling about the midterm elections, July 13, 2022.

CNN: Sanders accuses Manchin of 'intentionally sabotaging' Biden's agenda, July 18, 2022.

The Economist: Why politicians have failed to tackle climate change, May 22, 2020.