Editorials, Opinion

Where will Capito, Manchin stand on infrastructure plans?

While we’re on the subject of infrastructure, let’s talk about the bipartisan traditional infrastructure package underway in the Senate.

Last Thursday, Sen. Joe Manchin gave a vague but optimistic comment on the package’s progress, saying, “We will continue working hard to ensure we get this critical legislation right—and are optimistic that we will finalize, and be prepared to advance, this historic bipartisan proposal … in the coming days.”

That same day, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said, “What does this do for West Virginians?”

The framework of the bill, announced last month by  the bipartisan group of senators crafting the bill and President Biden, includes: roads, bridges, major projects; public transit; passenger and freight rail; electric vehicles; electric buses/transit; airports; ports and waterways; infrastructure financing; water; broadband; environmental remediation; power, including grid authority; western water storage; and resilience (making sure physical infrastructure will last, but also specifically “flooding and coastal resiliency”).

At the time of this writing, the exact numbers for this bill were still being worked out by the bipartisan group and a vote by the whole Senate for further discussion  had not yet been taken.

We can’t imagine zero of that $1.2 trillion would come to West Virginia. Would we like to see our senators fight to get the Mountain State the money it needs? Sure. But we don’t want to see them use “it’s not enough” as an excuse to jettison the whole package.

As the saying goes, beggars can’t be choosers. As a state with some of the worst road, bridge and water quality in the nation (we got a D on our Infrastructure Report Card, not to mention the current crisis in Clarksburg because of lead water pipes), any dollars that come West Virginia’s way will help.

Capito isn’t our only concern, though, as this bill comes closer to a vote and the human infrastructure bill looms on the horizon. It’s a given that at least one, if not both, of the proposed plans will address climate change.

Manchin is a wild card here.

He seems to be on board with the bipartisan physical infrastructure plan, but we’re worried he’ll use his power as the “moderate” swing vote to scratch  green energy provisions in  this bill or the forthcoming human infrastructure package. Salon magazine reports he’s already  diverted funds in the current bipartisan plan away from renewables to fossil fuels. Salon and Sludge (a nonprofit news outlet) also report Manchin made almost $500,000 from his shares in Enersystems, a contractor of American Bituminous Power Partners, in fiscal year 2020 and about $1.5 million from those shares since he was elected to the Senate.

In other words, it financially benefits Manchin to use his sway to nix clean energy measures.

Coal is West Virginia’s past, and it might be our present for the time being, but coal is not our future. It will run out; the mines will close, and if we don’t make our mark on the renewable energy field now, we’ll lose our chance to reinvent ourselves as an energy giant for the next generation. We should not allow our senators’ political and financial interests to hold the state — and the nation — back.