Editorials, Opinion

Manchin is holding Congress hostage, but the ransom won’t help W.Va.

No single senator should have the power to hold Congress hostage.

We said the same thing when Sen. Mitch McConnell was Senate majority leader and could kill a bill just by shoving it in his desk drawer, never to see the light of day again. And now the senator holding America’s government for ransom is our own Sen. Joe Manchin.

He’ll claim the ransom he’s requesting is for the good of his state — and ultimately for the good of the country — but he’s flat out wrong. Either he’s naïve enough to believe the bull feces he’s peddling, or he’s lying to protect his own interests.

It was frustrating enough when Manchin turned up his nose at the Build Back Better Act’s price tag — now he’s refusing to support a bill that has virtually any provisions to combat climate change. That’s where we call Manchin’s bluff.

All of the senator’s bluster has to do with “protecting” fossil fuel jobs in West Virginia, but there were only 11,418 direct coal jobs in 2020 (2,500 fewer than in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration) and only about 16,000 direct oil and gas jobs 2019, if you add pipleline distribution jobs to the U.S. Energy and Employment Report. Compare that to total employment in West Virginia: 759,503 people working in July 2019 and 713,138 in July 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. In other words, in 2019, coal, oil and natural gas made up only about 4% of West Virginia’s jobs. Manchin, however, made almost $500,000 in dividends last year from the coal industry.

We’re not denigrating the work that coal miners and pipeline workers do. Every one of those 30,000-ish people deserve the opportunity for a well-paying job. But we also have to look at the big picture: Manchin is fighting to protect 4% of West Virginia’s jobs — and his dividends — at the expense of millions of people’s lives, livelihoods and homes here in West Virginia and across the nation.

Remember the back-to-back 100-year floods we experienced in our area this past summer that damaged dozens of homes and businesses? Remember the 2016 flood in the southern part of the state that took 23 lives and destroyed hundreds of buildings?

As long as fossil fuels are the primary power source for our lives, climate change will only get worse. And data released by the First Street Foundation puts West Virginia in the top percentage of states at risk of devastating damage from more severe floods.

If Manchin cared about West Virginia and its workers, he wouldn’t be cutting clean energy measures from the Build Back Better Act. Climate change is a threat to everyone, but if you want to focus on workers, clean energy is still the better option. An analysis of a dozen labor and energy studies found that green energy creates on average 1.5 more jobs for every $1 million invested compared to fossil fuels.

The only “clean” energy initiative Manchin has shown any support for is carbon capture, which may be why his fellow Democrats and the White House are scrambling to come up with a plan based on carbon taxes, in order to salvage some semblance of President Biden’s climate agenda.

However, the carbon taxes now being considered as an alternative do little to stem carbon emissions. In that scenario, it’s more likely corporations will pass the expense on to consumers, unlike in Biden’s original plan. There’s no reward for using more sustainable energy — only financial punishment for using fossil fuels. Not to mention, the labor and energy analysis  found  carbon capture creates half as many jobs per $1 million spent as fossil fuels, making it the worst of the “good” options.

The foundation for the nation’s energy future is being laid and funded now. We could lead the industry as a state that can produce both green and traditional energy during this time of transition. Instead, because our leaders are so fixated on short-term benefits with no heed to long-term costs, we’re going to be left behind once again.