This Powerful Democrat Depends on Fossil Fuels Will Craft the USA

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WASHINGTON — Powerful West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, who chairs the Senate energy panel and earned half a million dollars from coal production last year, is poised to remake President Biden’s climate law to give the fossil fuel industry a lifeline. There are urgent calls from scientists that countries must move quickly away from coal, gas and oil to avoid a climate catastrophe.

Manchin emerged as a critical up or down vote in a sharply divided Senate when it comes to Biden’s attempt to pass a $3.5 trillion budget bill that could reshape the nation’s social welfare web. But Mr. Biden also wants the bill to include an aggressive climate policy that will force utilities to stop burning fossil fuels and switch to wind, solar or nuclear power that doesn’t emit planet-warming greenhouse gases.

As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Mr. Manchin holds the pen and gavel of the congressional panel with authority to shape Mr. Biden’s ambitions.

But Mr. Manchin is also closely associated with the fossil fuel industry. Beloved West Virginia ranks second in coal and seventh in natural gas production out of 50 states. In the current election cycle, Mr. Manchin has received more campaign donations from the oil, coal and gas industries than any other senator. Data compiled by OpenSecrets, a research organization that monitors political spending.

He personally profits from the polluting industries: He owns between $1 million and $5 million a stake in Enersystems Inc., a coal brokerage company he founded in 1988. After being elected to the West, he gave control of the company to his son, Joseph. Virginia secretary of state in 2000. Last year, Mr. Manchin earned $491,949 in dividends from Enersystems stock, according to the Senate financial disclosure report.

“The fact that we’re going to have a representative of fossil fuel interests drafting policy that reduces our emissions from fossil fuels says something fascinating about our policy,” said Joseph Aldy, who helped draft and now lectures on former President Barack Obama’s climate change bill. at Harvard.

Mr. Manchin’s spokesman, Sam Runyon, wrote that the senator “fully complies with Senate ethics and financial disclosure rules.” It continues to work to find a way forward in energy innovation and key climate legislation that maintains American leadership in critical energy reliability.” He noted that Mr Manchin helped shape recent legislation that includes some climate provisions, including the bipartisan infrastructure bill. passed the Senate last month..

During the 2010 Senate campaign, Mr. Manchin famously said in a television ad that “because it’s bad for West Virginia” that Mr. Obama used a shotgun to punch a bullet hole in his climate plan. More recently, Mr. Manchin has publicly acknowledged the contribution of fossil fuel pollution to rising global temperatures.

“There is no question that climate change is real or that it drives much of human activity,” he wrote. 2019 opinion piece in the Washington Post With Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski.

But Mr. Manchin also made it clear that he does not support legislation that would eliminate the burning of these fossil fuels, especially coal and natural gas.

Now, Mr. Manchin is preparing to write the climate part of his budget bill, which, according to people familiar with his thinking, will allow natural gas to flow to the power plants. Sources spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Mr. Manchin supports some of the climate measures proposed by Mr. Biden, but is working to ensure that they protect and expand the use of coal and natural gas. He agrees with the president that communities dependent on fossil fuels deserve financial support as the country transitions to green energy. And it’s the booster of carbon capture sequestration, an emerging technology that collects carbon emissions from chimneys and buries them in the ground. If it becomes commercially viable, this technology could allow industries to continue burning coal, oil and gas.

But most powerful climate mechanism In the budget bill – and what Mr. Manchin plans to reshape – is a $150 billion program designed to replace most of the country’s coal and gas-fired power plants with wind, solar and nuclear power over the next decade. Known as the Clean Electric Performance Program, it will pay utilities to increase the amount of power they generate from zero-emission sources, and penalize those who don’t.

As envisioned by the White House and Democrats, the carrot and stick approach could transform the nation’s electricity sector, which is the second-largest source of greenhouse pollution after transportation. Analysts say the policy is crucial to Mr Biden’s goal of producing 80 percent of electricity from zero carbon sources by 2030 and 100 percent clean electricity by 2035. Electric cars and trucks can also help reduce pollution from cars, as they will draw power from a clean-energy grid.

“This policy is an important foundation for rapidly reducing emissions in the sectors that pollute the economy the most,” said Richard Newell, head of Resources for the Future, a neutral energy and environmental research organization.

Mr Manchin’s version is expected to have less ambitious renewable energy requirements for electric power companies. Its version could also reward utilities that build new power plants designed to burn natural gas. Although it releases about half of coal’s carbon dioxide, natural gas is still a major contributor to global warming.

Fossil fuel lobbyists, utility managers and West Virginia business leaders are meeting, phoning and emailing Mr. Manchin and his staff to shape the bill.

Some said in recent talks they expect Mr Manchin’s plan to reward companies that increase their clean energy supply – but the incentives will be smaller and need less. According to the version backed by the White House and Democrats, companies will be eligible to get paid if they increase the amount of clean electricity they supply to customers by 4 percent per year by 2030. Mr Manchin will likely reduce this requirement to 3 percent per year. years or less, said two familiar with the matter.

That would still be an improvement over business as usual: American power companies have increased their use of zero-carbon power supplies at a rate of about 1.4 percent per year over the past five years. This usage increased by about 2.3 percentage points in 2020.

“While this will fall far short of what President Biden wanted, it may still be the biggest action Congress has ever taken on climate change,” said Mr Aldy, Obama’s former climate adviser.

Mr Manchin is also weighing up a provision that will pay utilities not only because they use more clean energy, but also because they switch from coal to natural gas, an already crumbling industry. Incentives to use natural gas will be smaller, but industry afloat.

Among the industry executives Mr. Manchin has listened to is Nick Akins, president of American Electric Power, an Ohio-based utility that serves 11 states, including West Virginia, and relies on West Virginia coal for most of its power plants. .

The two men have a long business relationship and spoke earlier this month – each man has the other’s cell phone number.

Mr. Akins said Mr. Manchin wanted power companies to slow the pace needed to switch from dirty fuels to clean fuels, and to lift penalties for energy companies that don’t switch to clean electricity sources.

“Like all of us, it supports a clean energy future,” Akıns said. “But these transitions take time. We can’t fit all this into eight years,” he said, referring to Mr. Biden’s goal of 80 percent clean energy by 2030.

“And I don’t like punishment – ​​we already have all the impetus in the world to continue this clean energy transition,” Akins added.

Mr Aldy said removing the fines would greatly weaken the bill. “Pollution penalty is really important,” he said. “All the analyzes show you get huge reductions in carbon emissions if you have a polluting penalty. Eliminate that and all you have is another government subsidy for renewable energy.”

Mr. Manchin also listens closely to his constituents. West’s president, Steve Roberts, spent two days at the annual meeting of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce earlier this month at the luxury resort of Senator Greenbrier. Virginia Chamber of Commerce and another old friend of Mr. Manchin’s. It’s something that’s probably been talked about in West Virginia business circles every day for the past two or three weeks.”

Mr Roberts said these conversations do not challenge the reality of climate change or whether the government should take action to combat it. The main theme was “slow down”.

“It wouldn’t hurt me if you said, ‘Yes, it’s getting warmer and people need to run their air conditioners more.’ And Joe Manchin feels the same way,” said Mr. Roberts.

“But we think we need to be realistic about eliminating carbon emissions,” he said. “We’re not really sure that the combination of demand and physics with world market issues will mean we can go from electricity to zero emissions by 2035 as President Biden wants.”

the world in May leading energy agency These countries should immediately stop certifying new coal-fired power plants and new oil and gas fields, and quickly phase out gasoline-powered vehicles to avert the most catastrophic effects of climate change. The scientists said the world must keep the rise in average global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, or risk irreversible damage. The planet has already warmed by about 1.1 degrees Celsius. Friday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said “The world is on a disastrous road.”

Environmentalists and progressives are demanding urgent federal action and are worried that the 2022 election is so short that Democrats may lose control of Congress.

“This is not the time to dilute the biggest driver of reducing climate pollution,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of the Conservative Voters Union. “We are definitely out of time when it comes to dealing with the climate crisis.”

Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences at Princeton University, said the proposals currently under consideration by Mr Manchin would “hold fossil fuels as the main engine of the economy longer than the climate can handle.”

Last week, when Biden was asked if he would sign a budget package in which climate action is reduced, he replied, “I am in favor of more climate action.”

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