Climate Corner: Not all West Virginians are Manchin fans

Jan 29, 2022

Eric Engle

In a recent edition of The Charleston Gazette-Mail, President of the West Virginia Manufacturer’s Association Rebecca McPhail, stated “People outside our great state are entitled to their own opinions, but here in West Virginia we know Joe Manchin and we’re grateful for him.” How very presumptuous of Ms. McPhail to speak for all West Virginians. And how very thoughtful of her (sarcasm intended) to declare that the rest of the country are entitled to their own opinions about a Senator whose egotistical obstruction of extremely popular and crucial legislation directly and negatively impacts their lives.

The audacity of the fossil fuels and chemical industries in West Virginia and their lobbyists and representatives in our state legislature never ceases to amaze me. No price is too high for energy consumers to pay to keep burning coal. Cleaning up after coal, oil and gas is the taxpayer’s responsibility in West Virginia, not the responsibility of these profitable industries. Make utilities compete in open markets? Not in West Virginia. Pursue environmental justice initiatives for low-income communities and communities of color disproportionally harmed by pollution like ethylene oxide? Maybe the state Department of Environmental Protection will get around to it, but they’ll probably just hold more meetings where folks can share their trauma from this exposure and then go back to giving polluting industry whatever it wants and occasionally issuing fines that polluting industry considers the cost of doing business. Regulatory capture in this state is a given.

If these folks are not “married to the mineral,” as so many of them like to say, and they just care about miners and power plant workers and local tax revenues, how about they pass policy, create regulations and make investments that will make a tangible difference in the lives of the people of this state given the inevitable decline of finite fossils? Not only must we dramatically reduce CO2 and equivalent greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade to preserve the most stable global climate system we possibly can, but fossil fuels cannot compete with renewable energy and storage indefinitely without massive amounts of public subsidy and favorable treatment.

A study by the International Monetary Fund found that $5.2 trillion was spent globally on fossil fuel subsidies in 2017, and an analysis by Simon Buckle, the head of the climate change, biodiversity and water division at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, found that the $649 billion the U.S. spent on fossil fuels subsidies in 2015 was more than the country’s defense budget and 10 times the federal spending for education.

Another example of how ridiculous our legislature can be when it comes to the fossil fuels industry can be found in the current legislative session. The West Virginia State Senate wants to set up a private, nonstock mining mutual insurance company funded by $50 million from Department of Environmental Protection-specified funds meant to ensure that state mine cleanup funds don’t become more insolvent. The DEP, however, has testified that it has no idea where that $50 million is going to come from. A recent piece on this proposed legislation by Charleston Gazette reporter Mike Tony quotes Sierra Club Senior Attorney Peter Morgan as saying, “It’s hard for me to see that as anything other than a way to lose $50 million of West Virginia’s money because given what’s happening with the coal mining industry, anyone who issues those sorts of bonds is going to have to pay out the full value of those bonds, and that’s going to quickly deplete the $50 million and any additional money the state might put into that.”

No, Ms. McPhail, not all of us West Virginians are grateful for Sen. Joe Manchin III–a man who has placed the profits he makes from the coal brokerage he founded, held in a not-so-blind trust run by his son, over the well-being of the Mountain State. Thousands of us have begged and pleaded with Joe to care more about the people of this state than about his yacht in the Potomac and his Maserati, but he doesn’t want to hear it. The corporate and industry largesse pouring into his future campaign coffers and the attention he’s getting to feed his narcissistic megalomania is just too good for those dopamine receptors in his brain. Maybe one day West Virginia will be able to thrive in a 21st Century economy, but not until the insatiable appetite for destruction of the industries of the past has been either forcefully curbed or sated.


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