How Joe Manchin controls the climate

The fossil fuel loyalist is supported by more than just oil money.

A demonstrator dressed as Joe Manchin plays puppet-master at a climate change rally outside the U.S. Capitol on October 20, 2021. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Senator Joe Manchin calls climate change a “massive” and “real” problem that poses “a serious threat to our citizens, to our economy, to our environment, to our national security and to our world.” There’s “no doubt,” he says, that greenhouse gas pollution is the cause.

But over his 39-year political career, the 74-year-old conservative Democrat from West Virginia has never supported any policy to help the U.S. move away from its largest source of greenhouse gas pollution: fossil fuels. In fact, Manchin is perhaps best known for his fierce career-long defense of fossil fuels, which are responsible for 74 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

So it shouldn’t have surprised anyone when, last Friday, the New York Times revealed Manchin’s intent to single-handedly hobble the U.S.’s best chance at meaningful climate legislation in a decade, because it would have disincentivized the use of fossil fuels. Manchin—a crucial swing vote for President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill—said he’ll only support the package if Biden removes its most critical climate provision: a $150 billion program to financially reward energy suppliers that switch from fossil fuels to renewable electricity, and penalize those that don’t.

This program, called the CEPP, was going to be “the backbone of the energy transition.” It represented the “most effective way to slash U.S. carbon emissions significantly enough to prevent the global temperature from rising by 1.5 degrees Celsius,” Vox reported. “We fundamentally need it to meet our climate goals,” climate policy expert Leah Stokes said.

But Biden is no longer fighting for the CEPP, citing Manchin’s opposition. On Friday, E&E News reported that the two men are negotiating to replace the CEPP with a different policy. Biden said Manchin is apparently willing to use the $150 billion for tax incentives for clean energy. But anything that might “directly affect the electric grid in the way that there’s a penalty” for using fossil fuels is off the table.

Because Manchin’s solutions are less extreme than the full-out denial of the Republican caucus, this forthcoming deal with Biden will likely be seen by some as a climate compromise. The reality, however, is a climate surrender. Scientists have made it clear: preventing irreversible damage requires an extremely drastic transition away from fossil fuels. So if a climate policy package doesn’t attempt to make that transition, it’s not really a climate policy package. It’s a package of attempts to placate the public while ensuring a gradually harsher, costlier climate for centuries to come.

Opposing real climate policies and championing fake ones is what Manchin was elected to do. There’s a reason ExxonMobil’s former chief lobbyist described him as the Senate’s “kingmaker;” the man literally began his Senate career in 2010 by shooting a bullet through the cap-and-trade bill. Since then, the fossil fuel industry has been pouring money into Manchin’s coffers, and shows no signs of stopping. Despite not being up for re-election until 2024, Manchin’s received “more in political donations from the oil and gas industry than any other senator—more than double the second largest recipient” this election cycle.

That pattern continued while Manchin was considering Biden’s climate package. His campaign’s latest quarterly report—released the day the Times revealed his opposition to the CEPP—showed a whopping $1.6 million raised from June to September. More than $400,000 came from the oil and gas industry, Bloomberg, E&E, and Yahoo.

But Manchin’s power to control the climate’s fate doesn’t come solely from the fossil fuel industry. Many other corporations—some of which have publicly expressed support for aggressive climate action—donated to Manchin’s re-election campaign this summer while Biden’s climate agenda was in limbo. HEATED analyzed the campaign’s quarterly report; some of our most interesting findings are after the jump. But first…

—BIG OIL EXECS TESTIFY ON DISINFORMATION THIS WEEK. The CEOs of Exxon, Chevron, BP, and Shell will all attend and testify at a Congressional hearing on Thursday. Lawmakers “intend to model the high-profile event after congressional hearings on big tobacco firms, who misrepresented the health impacts of their products.” It’ll be a must-watch. (Reuters).

—UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA WILL DIVEST FROM FOSSIL FUELS. Sustained activism works yet again. “After years of pressure from student groups … the University recently announced plans to fully divest from fossil fuels in the next five to seven years.” (The Minnesota Daily).

CLIMATE ECONOMISTS AGREE: ACTION COSTS “FAR LESS” THAN INACTION. A new piece of evidence to support not destroying the planet is always good news, imo. A first-of-its-kind poll of climate economists in Europe, Asia and the Americas found “a strong consensus of views around the benefit of early and coordinated action.” (Reuters).

—5 KIDS ARE STARVING THEMSELVES IN PROTEST OF BIDEN AND MANCHIN’S CLIMATE INACTION. One participant was hospitalized over the weekend. The group is seeking help and support from other activists.

—RICH PEOPLE AREN’T GIVING MUCH MONEY TO CLIMATE EFFORTS. “Global philanthropic spending to help halt climate change grew last year — but still remains less than 2 percent of all giving, according to a new report from the ClimateWorks Foundation.” The report’s author said: “With the extreme events taking place, we thought it was shocking that there was so little money.” (The Columbian).

—SAUDI ARABIA MAKES B.S. NET ZERO PLEDGE FOR 2060. “Although the kingdom will aim to reduce emissions within its own borders, there is no indication Saudi Arabia will slow down investments in oil and gas or relinquish control of energy markets by moving away from the production of fossil fuels.” The country’s pledge looks a lot like Russia’s, announced earlier this month. (NPR, NY Times).

And now, here are some brief findings from our analysis of Manchin for West Virginia’s latest quarterly fundraising report. If you find them useful and want to support more work like this, smash that subscribe button.

Climate-friendly corporations are funding Manchin’s primary race

Progressives are planning to mount a primary challenge to Manchin for 2024, but it’s yet unclear who that challenger (or challengers) will be. Still, non-fossil fuel corporations are financially supporting Manchin’s re-election bid before they see who the challenger is—and some of those are corporations with strong pro-climate marketing language.

Manchin’s climate-friendly corporate supporters include:

  • Best Buy - The tech retail giant signed a letter in support of Biden’s federal climate targets in April; has been deemed a “Climate A List” company by the Carbon Disclosure Project; and is a member of the Climate Pledge. The company’s PAC also gave $2,500 to Manchin’s primary campaign last quarter.

  • Ford. In January, Ford’s president signed an open letter pledging to support the Biden’s administration’s climate goals. The U.S. automaker also proudly markets itself as “the only full-line U.S. automaker that has committed to reduce CO2 emissions in line with the Paris Agreement for climate change.” The company’s PAC gave $2,500 to Manchin’s primary campaign last quarter.

  • Experian. The popular credit reporting company has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030, and was named a “Climate A List” company by the Carbon Disclosure Project. The company’s PAC also gave $2,500 to Manchin’s primary campaign last quarter.

  • Fedex. The shipping company has done a lot to show its climate credentials lately; in May it committed $600,000 in grants to “organizations addressing climate challenges,” and in March it committed to carbon-neutral operations by 2040. The company’s PAC also gave $5,000 to Manchin’s primary campaign in June.

  • Toyota. The automaker has faced lots of activist and investor pressure for its anti-climate policy lobbying—and in April, the company pledged to review its lobbying practices and make changes. One of the company’s PAC gave $3,000 to Manchin’s campaign last quarter.

98 percent of Manchin’s donations are from out-of-state

Manchin for West Virginia received 789 contributions from individuals and corporate PACs last quarter, altogether totaling about $1.6 million. Only $31,930 of those donations—or 2 percent—came from individuals and corporations based in West Virginia. The other 98 percent of donors to Manchin’s PAC this summer, or $1.55 million, came from out-of-state individuals and corporations.

West Virginia’s energy industry absent from Manchin donor list

Of the 11 individual West Virginia donors, four were automobile dealers; two were healthcare workers; two were retirees; one was a bail bonder, one was a government contractor, one was a banker. The one in-state corporation that donated $10,000 was Genesis Healthcare, the nation’s largest nursing home chain. There were no West Virginia-based fossil fuel industry donors.

Fish has missed you these past few weeks! He’s taking the spotlight today, and will introduce you to some more friends next time.