Manchin not serving the people of West Virginia

Local columns 

Nov 13, 2021

Eric Engle

In the Nov. 6 and 7 edition of the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, oil and gas industry lobbyists wrote a propaganda piece for the ages. While I’m sure they’re quite grateful for the efforts of Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., polled majorities of West Virginians certainly are not.

The Build Back Better Act, which has been languishing for months because of Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona’s corporate and industry-fueled obstruction, is a once-in-a-generation investment in the working- and middle-class people of West Virginia and the entire nation. Guaranteed paid family and medical leave; extension of the child tax credit payments families have been receiving since passage of the American Rescue Plan; universal pre-K for all children ages 3 and 4; the largest, most substantial investments in our nation’s history in climate change mitigation and adaptation; and affordable childcare for working families, just to name a few provisions. These kinds of investments are what McPhail and Burd called an “amorphous political albatross.”

Like Manchin, McPhail and Burd don’t want the industries they represent held responsible for the damage they’ve caused. Manchin already killed the Clean Energy Performance Program, which would have required electric utilities to transition at least 4 percent of their energy portfolios annually to renewable and non-carbon sources, with rewards for doing so and penalties for failing to do so. Manchin’s opposition will also likely lead to the death of a fee on methane emissions for the oil and gas industry. Methane is up to 86-times more efficient at trapping heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, though it is shorter-lived in the atmosphere. These two provisions were two of the best shots we’ve had for serious emissions reductions, but I’m sure McPhail and Burd are glad they won’t be a reality any time soon.

McPhail and Burd mention the budgetary implications of the Build Back Better Act. That’s interesting, considering that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that just passed the House adds approximately $256 billion to our national debt, according to CBO estimates. I don’t remember hearing McPhail or Burd object to the $2 trillion in debt-fueled tax cuts for the wealthiest persons and entities in the country in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. And Manchin didn’t seem to have debt in mind when he voted recently for a $778 billion National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2022 alone.

The Build Back Better Act has been whittled down to between $1.75 trillion and $1.85 trillion over ten years for people who aren’t just in the top 1 percent, 5 percent, or 10 percent of the socioeconomic ladder–cue the performative cries of socialism!

Investment in what is traditionally known as infrastructure (i.e. roads, bridges, ports) as well as broadband and other more modern infrastructure is very important, but progressives have been opposed to passing the bipartisan infrastructure framework because they have been the only ones negotiating in good faith. Progressives were originally looking at anywhere from $6 trillion to $10 trillion over the next decade to fuel a second industrial revolution in renewable energy and sustainability and social investments. They compromised that number down to $3.5 trillion with the Biden administration, and now it’s half of that. Manchin still won’t commit to voting for the Build Back Better Act. He’s conceded nothing. That’s not statesmanship, it’s brinksmanship and senseless obstruction.

Manchin is not “conducting a clinic about how an elected official should operate” by any stretch of the imagination. Manchin is executing the Mitch McConnell playbook to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory for meaningful change and for his own party’s political well-being. This may serve McPhail and Burd’s clients well, but it certainly doesn’t serve the interests of the people.


Eric Engle is chairman of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.