Guest Essays, Opinion

Guest essay: West Virginians need Manchin to get on board with BBB climate legislation … before it’s too late

by Kathy Ferguson

West Virginia’s natural beauty inspired its citizens to adopt the famed song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” as the state’s unofficial anthem. But, now that Sen. Joe Manchin has rejected Democrats’ long-awaited climate package, any hopes to protect West Virginia’s natural resources are dead in the water … literally.

Build Back Better’s climate protection measures would have included new and expanded tax credits — hundreds of billions of dollars earmarked to fight climate change and tax breaks for renewable energy, electric vehicles and a host of other clean power sources. Moreover, Democrats estimated their proposed $320 billion in tax credits dedicated to wind and solar power, biofuels, advanced energy manufacturing, nuclear plants and electric vehicles could have reduced emissions by nearly 40% by year 2030.

Instead, Sen. Manchin used the fiscal austerity playbook, citing historically high inflation as his reason for delivering his gut-punch to Democrats, West Virginia and our hopes for combating global warming. Yet, Manchin famously has his own highly profitable investments in the coal industry, driving up electricity prices for countless West Virginia residents with a polluting and outdated coal ash contract. Yet, he should be as concerned about voting for a future that works for everyone.

Manchin’s recent rejection of BBB climate measures was the second blow to West Virginians.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court, in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, weakened the EPA’s authority to enforce vital protections from industrial waste, thanks to the court’s conservative majority. Now the EPA, an agency established during the Nixon administration, can’t uphold some key rules required to protect the environment from corporations that profit from dumping poison in the water and air.

The court’s recent ruling eliminates important protections for the health of people in our communities. That’s unfortunate, considering our state has regularly experienced coal runoff into our waterways. In fact, some of our lands just recently suffered a water crisis due to spilled contaminants into the Elk River. Previously, our lands faced the tragedies of chemical explosions and toxic emissions into our air. This shameful ruling feels completely out of step with what the EPA was created to do — help keep us safe. It’s clear that expanding the court may ensure hyper-partisan, unelected conservative justices won’t be empowered to undo the type of progress future generations desperately need.

There was a time when West Virginia could be considered analogous to the word environment. Our citizens would do anything to preserve not only her natural beauty, but her habitability. But somewhere, we lost our way. We gave into special interest groups and “coaligarchs” who make millions no matter the cost to our land or its people.

Moreover, it’s long past time for Congress to pass much-needed climate legislation that would provide a clean energy future, protect our air and water, invest in frontline communities during an energy transition and more. Build Back Better would have done just that, providing billions of dollars for projects West Virginians need in broadband, transportation, clean energy, water and other things that will enable our communities to thrive. But Republicans in the U.S. Senate are holding fast against this legislation, and West Virginia’s Sen. Manchin just proved where his loyalties lie.

As West Virginians, we urge Sen. Manchin to stop playing obstructionist games and support Build Back Better investments that West Virginians need for a healthy future. We must insist our representative in Congress do the right thing.

Our communities, our health — and really our whole planet — are under attack. Just weeks after the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration from enforcing rules that would combat climate change, Sen. Manchin has chosen to block efforts to do the same in Congress.

Kathy Ferguson currently serves as the interim executive director of Our Future West Virginia, a statewide nonprofit working to change the balance of power through grassroots led policy change, developing local leadership and bringing diverse voices together.