Joe Manchin, a Democratic senator from West Virginia, has made headlines over the past week for objecting to a key part of President Biden’s climate bill. According to NPR, the portion of the bill Manchin opposes would “financially reward utilities that transition to renewable energy and penalize those which do not.” This is a key aspect of the bill that would apparently cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, which trap heat in the planet and warm it.
Manchin, on the surface, is looking out for his constituents and saving the country money — in 2019, nearly 20,000 West Virginians were employed by the coal industry, and the state was surpassed only by Wyoming in coal production. In addition, Manchin has reportedly indicated he is trying to keep the country from spending money unnecessarily. The Guardian reported that “Manchin has called the bill’s spending ‘reckless’ and said it ‘makes no sense’ to pay utilities to increase their share of renewable energy when they are doing so already.”
But his decision to stand in the way of climate change reduction efforts, and the gradual retirement of coal production, is ultimately shortsighted as the detrimental impact of coal on the environment far outweighs any potential benefits in the short-term. Biden’s bill originally intended to slowly retire the coal industry, which impacts the environment in two major ways. In some states, including W.Va, mining involves detonating the tops of mountains, changing the landscape and often sending pollutants into streams and other waterways. In addition, burning coal results in emissions of harmful gases, including carbon dioxide. Some of the effects of these emissions include acid rain, a warming globe, and neurological or developmental damage brought about by the release of mercury and similar heavy metals.
Manchin’s refusal to get on board with the climate plan means that Biden doesn’t have all 50 Democratic senators on his side. The Senate is currently split evenly down the middle, with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats or Independents who vote (caucus) with the Democratic agenda. The tie will then broken by Vice President Kamala Harris. If just one member of the Democratic caucus breaks ranks, the Democratic agenda is without sufficient votes, because it’s highly unlikely that in today’s Trump-driven Republican atmosphere any member of the GOP would vote with Democrats.
Manchin’s steadfast refusal to bend has far-reaching consequences, meaning that the bill’s climate agenda will need to be significantly altered or even watered down. The thing is, every decision we make (or don’t make) today impacts the world of the future. I’m not a scientist, and I can’t bend my imagination to understand just what the world will look like if we don’t make any changes. But others have used their science and imagination to figure this out for me, and the picture they paint isn’t just ugly, it’s downright terrifying. Scientists are warning that much of what the world experienced this summer — from raging wildfires and droughts to floods and hurricanes — could continue and even get worse if we don’t change the way we treat the world.
While Manchin’s spokespeople have said they are trying to save the U.S. government money, indicating many companies are already moving in the direction the bill intends and thus do not need to be incentivized, nearly every article on the subject points out W.Va’s reliance on the coal industry as well as Manchin’s own ties to it. The truth of the matter is, whether Manchin’s reasons are the ones stated (a desire to not spend money on companies allegedly already taking their own steps) or whether the rationale is more nefarious (the senator has made millions from a coal company and raised astronomical amounts of funds from members of the fossil fuel industry), it is ultimately foolish.
The research has all been done to prove that we need to change our actions in order to keep the planet from warming even more than it already has. Manchin’s refusal to think innovatively and problem-solve is in no one’s best interests but his own, and only for a short period. If the planet continues in its current direction, with climate disaster upon disaster, all the saved money and jobs in the world will be worth very little during a climate apocalypse.
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