Let’s talk about Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) for a bit. Manchin is in a uniquely powerful position in the U.S. Senate, not because he deserves it but by luck. The various states have managed to elect a Senate divided almost exactly in half so that one Democratic senator can be the deciding vote on legislation that affects the whole country. Joe Manchin is taking full advantage of his good luck for personal gain.
West Virginia is not a rich state. It was once thriving with industries that have moved to China. The coal industry used to employ far more people than today. There are many poor and struggling families here. Why would Senator Manchin block legislation that would bring hundreds of millions in aid to West Virginia families?
Since the 2020 election, Manchin’s behavior was puzzling and frustrating to many. He took positions that were not beneficial to West Virginians. He negotiated to reduce benefits to West Virginia. He opposed the Build Back Better bill. His actions were what one would expect of a Republican catering to the whims of the billionaires who fund them, not a Democrat. The term “DINO” (Democrat in name only) was applied to him. Some wondered if he was just a shill for the Republican Party. Several Republicans tried to get him to join the Republican Party. It was very strange. What was he really up to?
Sixty years ago my grandmother taught me many things about politics, governance, and leadership. One thing she taught me was when you see a politician do something that makes no sense or do something that harms the people he’s representing, there’s an ulterior motive that you’re not seeing.
So what was behind this odd behavior? For some background, consider that Joe Manchin is in the coal business. His company, Enersystems, is a brokerage for waste coal, sometimes called dirty coal. So we know that concern about climate change and the environment isn’t high on his list of priorities, and he’s in the fossil fuel business. In Congress he chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. In recent years, Manchin received the most funding from the oil and gas industry of any senator, and participates in weekly meetings with lobbyists for ExxonMobil, other fossil fuel companies, and fossil fuel PACs.
Manchin has his business in a “blind trust” and says he “has no idea what they’re doing.” However, blind trust or not, he and his family ultimately reap the rewards of catering to the fossil fuel industry.
The less-than-obvious focus of Manchin’s attention is the Mountain Valley Pipeline. This is a pipeline project proposed in 2014 and was originally expected to be completed in 2018. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is to be a large, 2 million dekatherms per day, 304 mile line extending from North Central West Virginia to Southeast Maryland and beyond. It’s intended to carry natural gas obtained by fracking in West Virginia to East Coast users.
The pipeline has had difficulties obtaining and keeping various permits to cross the Jefferson National Forest, more than a thousand rivers and streams, as well as the famed Appalachian Trail. The project is 92 percent complete but has been bogged down in court actions that invalidated permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Manchin has been focused on getting the project moving again. He managed to get an energy permit bill attached to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022. This Act had to be passed by the end of September 2022 to provide funding to prevent a government shutdown. Support for the Act in Congress was insufficient with Manchin’s rider bill attached, so it was removed and scrapped. As a result we can expect Manchin’s primary focus to remain on the pipeline issue and he will continue to expend his political capital on this issue instead of the needs of West Virginians.