Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was the key obstacle to reaching a deal this week on passing both the Democratic infrastructure bill that passed the Senate last month and the broader bill to address climate change and provide $3.5 trillion over 10 years for a vast range of spending that would impact the lives of poor and middle-income people. As a result, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed back the House infrastructure vote, suggesting it might come on Friday. (At publication time, that had not yet happened.)
Progressives in the House so far have held fast against passing the infrastructure bill — which they support — without also getting the Senate, including Manchin, to approve the broader bill, with the measures that Biden campaigned on. That bill would create universal pre-K, saving the average family an estimated $13,000 annually; lower the costs of some child care; give free school meals to 9 million children; add dental, eye and hearing coverage to Medicare; lower costs for Obamacare enrollees; lower drug prices; invest in climate-change measures that would reduce carbon emissions, lower energy bills, create thousands of conservation jobs, and mitigate wildfires; and fund both school repairs and construction of new schools.
The White House says the investment of $3.5 trillion will be funded by raising taxes on the rich and slightly boosting corporate taxes (though still far below historic rates). The bill's investments will generate much more in revenues than they cost, by slowing the impact of climate change, improving education and so on.
Manchin, however, has consistently balked at the initial price tag and refused to vote for anything over $1.5 trillion. He has also objected to the bill's climate-change measures, calling some of them "very, very disturbing."
This comes despite the recent and very troubling UN climate report that said some climate change effects are already here and will be irreversible for centuries, at least.
But why is Manchin, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources — a key position in ensuring the country pursues more climate-friendly policies — so adamantly against taking the proper steps to address or at least curb the effects of climate change?
Manchin has a vested and longstanding interest in the coal industry as a senator from West Virginia. The state is second in the nation in coal production and coal is part of its identity. Between 2011, the year covered by his first Senate disclosure filing, and 2020, Manchin raked in a total of $5,211,154 in dividend income from Enersystems, a coal and energy resource company he founded in 1988 before entering the public sector, according to annual financial disclosures. The senator earned $491,949 in dividends last year alone, as journalist Alex Kotch reported this summer.
The filings show that Manchin has made an average of $521,115, more than half a million dollars, every year from Enersystems. Dividend income from before Manchin took office isn't public, but since he joined the Senate, the least he has made from Enersystems is $243,663, in 2015. The most was $865,065 in 2012.
Enersystems represents a staggering 71 percent of Manchin's investment income, according to FinePrint. It accounts for 30 percent of his net worth. His stake in the company is worth as much as $5 million. Manchin, in other words, has a vested interest in creating policies to keep coal profitable.
And the family business isn't Manchin's only conflict of interest. He rakes in cash from other big names in the fossil fuel industry.
It's no surprise Manchin has scoffed at legislation to address climate change. In 2019, he slammed the Green New Deal, telling CNN's Chris Cuomo, "I've got to work with the realities and I've got to work with the practical."
In reality, climate change action is not only necessary, it is very practical. In fact, some of the world's biggest automakers have already ramped up efforts to phase out gas-powered vehicles in exchange for electric-vehicle fleets, in line with Biden's plan for a national framework of EV charging stations.
Earlier this year, Unearthed, Greenpeace U.K.'s investigative unit, obtained video of now-former Exxon lobbyist Keith McCoy discussing 11 senators he called crucial to Exxon's interests, referring to Manchin in particular as "the kingmaker."
According to FEC filings, Manchin has taken a combined $12,500 in campaign contributions from ExxonMobil's PAC since 2012. The most recent contributions came during Manchin's last race, in 2018, and totaled a combined $5,000.
Manchin took in donations from several other big names in the oil and gas business as recently as April, when he accepted $5,000 from Marathon Oil's PAC. The list goes on and on. According to data compiled by OpenSecrets, the senator has taken more money from the fossil fuel industry in the current election cycle than any other Democrat.