There is ample reason to detest Joe Manchin: in a closely divided Senate, he has single-handedly defeated much of Biden’s agenda–including the President’s efforts to combat climate change and voter suppression.
Manchin has been a critical and mostly reliable vote for Biden’s judicial nominations, but a stubborn obstacle to passage of several measures that are absolutely central to the Democratic agenda, and popular with voters.
What makes his obdurate opposition worse is that it clearly isn’t motivated by principle. If his consistent obstruction was the result of philosophical conviction–part and parcel of a considered political ideology, no matter how wrongheaded–it would still be incredibly frustrating, but the anger would be different.
What infuriates policy wonks and party strategists alike is recognition that , with Manchin, it’s all about the money. (He evidently raised his children with the same self-serving values; his daughter’s fingerprints were all over the Epi-Pen scandal.)
As the New York Times reported, the Grant Town power plant is
the link between the coal industry and the personal finances of Joe Manchin III, the Democrat who rose through state politics to reach the United States Senate, where, through the vagaries of electoral politics, he is now the single most important figure shaping the nation’s energy and climate policy.
Mr. Manchin’s ties to the Grant Town plant date to 1987, when he had just been elected to the West Virginia Senate, a part-time job with base pay of $6,500. His family’s carpet business was struggling.
When developers approached Manchin, he helped them clear what the Times calls “bureaucratic hurdles.” He then went into business with them.
Mr. Manchin supplied a type of low-grade coal mixed with rock and clay known as “gob” that is typically cast aside as junk by mining companies but can be burned to produce electricity. In addition, he arranged to receive a slice of the revenue from electricity generated by the plant — electric bills paid by his constituents.
The deal inked decades ago has made Mr. Manchin, now 74, a rich man.
If the story stopped there, it would be troubling enough, but it doesn’t.
While the fact that Mr. Manchin owns a coal business is well-known, an examination by The New York Times offers a more detailed portrait of the degree to which Mr. Manchin’s business has been interwoven with his official actions. He created his business while a state lawmaker in anticipation of the Grant Town plant, which has been the sole customer for his gob for the past 20 years, according to federal data. At key moments over the years, Mr. Manchin used his political influence to benefit the plant. He urged a state official to approve its air pollution permit, pushed fellow lawmakers to support a tax credit that helped the plant, and worked behind the scenes to facilitate a rate increase that drove up revenue for the plant — and electricity costs for West Virginians.
Records show that several energy companies have held ownership stakes in the power plant, major corporations with interests far beyond West Virginia. At various points, those corporations have sought to influence the Senate, including legislation before committees on which Mr. Manchin sat, creating what ethics experts describe as a conflict of interest.
Now that he has found himself in a position to cast pivotal votes in an evenly divided Senate, Manchin hasn’t hesitated to block legislation intended to speed the country’s transition to clean energy. When the war in Ukraine led to calls to boycott Russian gas, Manchin joined Republicans who are agitating for production of more American gas and oil to fill the gap.
Manchin’s protection of the Grant Town plant can’t be defended by claiming it helps West Virginia residents, either. As the Times article notes, while the power plant continues to pay Manchin handsome dividends, “it has harmed West Virginians economically, costing them hundreds of millions of dollars in excess electricity fees. That’s because gob is a less efficient power source than regular coal.”
The bulk of Manchin’s income since entering the Senate has come from one company: Enersystems, Inc., which he founded with his brother Roch Manchin in 1988, the year before the Grant Town plant got a permit from the state of West Virginia.
Enersystems Inc. is now run by Mr. Manchin’s son, Joseph Manchin IV. In 2020, it paid Mr. Manchin $491,949, according to his filings, almost three times his salary as a United States senator. From 2010 through 2020, Mr. Manchin reported a total of $5.6 million from the company.
Manchin will remain in a position to defy science and undermine his President and his party so long as the Senate remains equally divided. Meanwhile, the GOP is pulling out all the stops to keep Democrats from voting and their votes from being accurately counted.