Inside a garage in Washington DC, a group of climate protesters surrounded a luxury car. “We want to live!” they sang. It was November 4th; The driver of the car was Joe Manchin III, a Democrat Senator from West Virginia and a staunch opponent of the climate change measures that President Joe Biden was trying to push through Congress.
The next day, Biden passed a $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill that was hailed as a grand achievement for the president, but the legislation lacks meaningful measures to tackle climate change. The more ambitious social spending bill, which now contains most of the climate-related provisions, has been suspended in Congress. When the Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, all Democratic votes – especially Manchin’s – are counted.
Since the Democrats reclaimed the White House after last year’s elections, he has regularly voted against his party, delaying bills and thwarting progressive legislation. Manchin has fought especially hard against climate change action.
If the Social Spending Bill is finally passed, it will not include a $ 150 billion electricity efficiency program that would reward utilities for phasing out fossil fuels and punish those who did not. Experts said the program would dramatically reduce US greenhouse gas emissions. But thanks to one Democratic Senator, the program is dead.
Manchin was born in 1947 and raised in the mining town of Farmington, West Virginia. His career has been spent either in the relatively impoverished state of Appalachia or at his office in Washington, DC. After working in the family’s carpet business, Manchin founded coal brokerage firm Enersystems and entered politics in the 1980s. He served as West Virginia’s Secretary of State for four years and was in charge of election observation before running for governor in 2004. He held this position until 2010, when he ran for and won one of two seats in the US Senate. Now a millionaire who loves to entertain fellow politicians on his yacht by name Almost paradiseManjin is often described as a centrist politician in an increasingly polarized country.
He also created a lot of headaches for his party. Climate regulations aren’t the only progressive legislation that Manchin has blocked since Biden took office. In March, he was lonely The Democrat insists on reducing the size of unemployment benefits in connection with the coronavirus provided to Americans. In April he refused to support raising the corporate tax rate to 28%. However, the challenge of climate action is unique in that Manchin’s ability to halt progress will not only affect the United States; this could have implications for the rest of the world.
While at Manchin claimed to be concerned As for the economic consequences of Biden’s measures, his own fortunes, financial and political, are at stake. West Virginia is a land of coal: to vote against the industry would be political suicide. Manchin has received more political donations from the oil, gas and coal industries than any other senator in the current electoral cycle. Moreover, his personal finances are supported by the coal industry. Although he handed over the reins of his coal brokerage firm to his son, he still owns shares in the company and earned millions of dividends.
Despite Manjin’s opposition, experts say there is still hope that the United States will be able to pass an important climate law. The Social Expenditure Bill has succeeded in incorporating some, though not all, of the climate measures excluded from the Infrastructure Bill. More importantly, the centrists, including Manchin, have hinted that they are willing to support the bill in theory.
“The prospects for real action are still good,” said David J. Victor, co-director of the UC San Diego Deep Decarbonization Initiative, although he admits the new measures do not include penalties for utility companies that refuse to ditch fossil fuels ( “It’s a big dump truck full of carrots,” without any sticks, he said).
Robbie Orvis, senior director of energy policy at Energy Innovation, a Washington, DC-based think tank, agrees. “I am the most optimistic about federal politics in my entire career.”
For now firm commitment is still in short supply, and Manjin’s power is unabated. The social spending bill is expected to go to a vote in the House of Representatives in the coming weeks before it goes to the Senate. There, as Orvis put it, “at least 49 people are ready to go through it, and the 50th, well, made some changes, but otherwise seems to support.”
For now, we can only wait to see what Manchin does. In the meantime, wait for new protests.
[see also: Joe Biden and the spectre of Donald Trump]