'A huge conflict of interest': How Joe Manchin profits from the coal interests he votes for

'A huge conflict of interest': How Joe Manchin profits from the coal interests he votes for

Throughout his long career in West Virginia politics, Sen. Joe Manchin has been a consistent supporter of fossil fuels — first in the West Virginia State Legislature, then as West Virginia governor, and now, in the U.S. Senate. An article by reporter Scott Waldman, published by E&E News on February 2, looks back on how coal-friendly Manchin, now 74, made a West Virginia energy bill back in 2009.

“As governor, Joe Manchin supported an unusual detail in a clean energy bill that was moving through the West Virginia Legislature in 2009,” Waldman explains. “The provision classified waste coal as an alternative energy. The muddy mix of discarded coal and rocks is one of the most carbon-intensive fuels in America, and Manchin’s family business stood to benefit financially when it was reclassified as something akin to solar, wind and hydropower. Selling the scrap coal has earned Manchin millions of dollars over three decades, and he has used his political positions to protect the fuel — and a single power plant in West Virginia that burns it — from laws and regulations that also threatened his family business.”

Waldman adds, “That was evident in 2009 when Manchin, a Democrat, used one of his last actions as governor to sign a renewable energy law.”

The bill sounded green, Waldman notes, but was actually very favorable to coal.

“The measure was described as a way to increase the state’s amount of clean power to 25% by 2025,” Waldman recalls. “But it also shielded the waste coal that helped build Manchin’s fortune. Classifying it as an alternative energy source allowed utilities to count it toward their renewable electricity goals.”

Waldman adds, “That infuriated some members of his own party, who saw the law as a way to jump-start the state’s transition to a cleaner future. It hasn’t worked. More than a decade after the law was enacted, just 6% of the state’s power is derived from renewable sources; 88% percent comes from coal.”

Walter Schaub, who headed the U.S. Office of Government Ethics under President Barack Obama, believes that Manchin’s interests in West Virginia’s coal industry are a “huge conflict of interest” for the centrist Democratic senator.

Schaub told E&E News, “All of this is stuff that is so insane, any person who has no interest in any of this would clearly say this should be against the rules. But then, the people who get in the position to change the rules have these conflicts, and they have no interest in solving them.”

Waldman points out that there is “no indication that Manchin has broken any laws.” A conflict of interest can be totally legal, which doesn’t mean that it isn’t a conflict of interest.

Waldman observes, “As a U.S. senator, Manchin helped fight off attempts by the Obama Administration to more strictly regulate coal ash, a toxic byproduct of waste coal. The proposed rules might have led to the closure of power plants that burn the discarded coal, analysts said.”

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