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Manchin hosts Charleston roundtable to tout benefits of Inflation Reduction Act

MORGANTOWN – Sen. Joe Manchin led a roundtable in Charleston on Friday featuring leaders in business, energy and senior issues to tout the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act.

“I can be the hero and the villain in a 24-hour period,” he told them, describing the path to drafting and passing the bill. It had to focus on energy issues while avoiding the inflationary money printing the dead Build Back Better would have spurred.

“I named that one,” he said of the IRA’s title. Various analyses have concluded the IRA will have little to no impact on inflation, but Manchin said that if seniors are paying less for prescriptions, if more domestic energy is getting produced, if tax rates aren’t hiked, it curbs inflation. “That’s pretty simple.”

In addressing the benefits, each speaker also countered the objections opponents have raised about the act.

Gaylene Miller, AARP state director, outlined the prescription drug benefits the act features for seniors. Among them, insulin copays are capped at $35 a month starting Jan. 1, 2023. Medicare Part D premium hikes will be capped in 2024 and Medicare will be empowered to negotiate drug costs starting in 2025.

“These policies have broad bipartisan support among voters,” she said, and will save billions of dollars.

Toby Rice, president and CEO of EQT, the nation’s largest natural gas producer, said the IRA addresses the inflation crisis, of which energy prices are the root cause.

“Energy is everything,” he said, and the industry needs the commitment to permitting reform not actually in the act (the Senate voted down a Shelley Moore Capito amendment to include it) but promised to come up for a vote in September in exchange for Manchin’s support of the act.

Pipelines need to get built faster than ever before, Rice said, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities need to be ready to export the gas to our allies. “If we have the infrastructure, we have the ability to address the energy crisis and be a leader on the world stage.”

LNG, he said, could replace dirty foreign coal. We could export the equivalent of Saudi oil, 2.5 times what Putin sends to Europe. That could be the “biggest green initiative on the planet,” he said. “This is a great step forward.”

One aim of the permitting reform is to enable completion of the stalled Mountain Valley Pipeline, which was expected to be complete in 2018 and now will come in at twice the price – $6 billion instead of $3 billion, said Michael Killion, with MVP builder Equitrans.

It’s just three to four months from completion, he said, with just 20 of its 303 miles left to build. For West Virginia it will create 3,000 construction jobs and generate $35 million a year in tax revenue when it’s operating. And should the day come that hydrogen replaces natural gas, the line can be re-sleeved to handle the new product.

IRA opponents have said that the methane tax it establishes – a fee on excess methane emissions that exceed an industry-set defined emissions waste threshold — will cripple the industry.

But Killion and Rice both said it will do no harm. Killion said it provides a framework for Equitrans to continue producing mature assets by developing technologies to control emissions and retire expired assets.

Rice said that for good operators, the tax won’t be an issue, and that’s pretty much all of them.

Brandon Dennison, CEO of Coalfield Development, praised the IRA’s provisions for providing assets for devastated coalfield communities. The promise of that help has generated more interest in private sector development in the coalfields in the past year than during the previous 11 years.

Tom Crouser, a buisness consultant based in Mink Shoals, said opponents are worried that the IRA’s 15% minimum corporate tax will raise prices to consumers as the tax gets passed along.

But, he said, the tax will affect just a few companies: there are 52 companies that have paid no corporate income taxes, and the act affects only those whose net earnings, after all costs are deducted, exceeds $1 billion. The act merely levels the playing field.

And Chris Deweese, an accountant and small business owner dismissed the idea that the act’s funding for the IRS will turn the agency into an armed gestapo, as he termed it.

He said the IRS sorely needs to beef up its customer service – only 10% of 167 million calls reached an agent and businesses wait years for returns to be processed – and its technology is out of date. The IRS is already short-staffed and 52,000 employees are coming up on retirement eligibility.

IRS doesn’t have the capacity to hire 80,000 agents, he said, and only 2,000 current agents carry guns.

Thomas Minney, state director of the Nature Conservancy, talked about the IRA’s balance of energy and environmental interests.

West Virginia has 400,000 acres of abandoned mine lands ripe to for energy development, he said. And the act has provisions for carbon capture and storage. West Virginia is covered with forests that are important for carbon storage, where it can be stored in the trees and soils.

“We have a real contribution to make there, he said. “I want the beautiful nature and I want it to be serving the climate goals that we have.”

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