BLUEFIELD — If Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wants to move forward in a bipartisan manner in a fractured Senate, one of his first challenges is to find common ground in the issue of climate change and renewable energy.
President Joe Biden already issued an Executive Order to put a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands, an order that even has Manchin’s colleague and fellow West Virginian, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., on the attack.
“This is an economic, energy, and national security disaster in my view,” she said last week. “This order moves America from energy independence back to relying on foreign sources for fuel. And a lot of times these are the countries who have much laxer envi ronmental policies than we have right here in the United States.”
She also said it reminds her of the Obama Administration’s environmental regulations that hurt the fossil fuel industry, including coal jobs in West Virginia.
But Capito, who is ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Manchin, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, also both see some common ground.
Manchin said in an interview last week he spoke to the White House about Biden’s directive to the Interior Department to halt new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and waters.
“They informed me they are pausing new oil and gas leases on federal lands in order to fully evaluate the state of production on current leases,” he said. “Currently, 53 percent of onshore acres are leased and 77 percent of offshore acres leased have no active production. It is prudent to evaluate if taxpayers are receiving a fair return for the use of their resources. This executive order will not impact energy activity like drilling or permitting on existing leases.”
That issue aside, Capito has made it clear she wants to be “part of the solution.”
“I am not a climate denier,” she said. “We all need to take care of our planet. We must be good stewards of our earth and water. We know it’s the right thing to do…We can address climate change together though innovation and technology. We already have new markets for coal—carbon products. We know investing in carbon capture utilization and storage is critical for a lot of reasons. It’s a win-win on both sides. We know new technologies are progressing every day.”
Although bipartisan work is already under way, she expressed concern that the Executive Order may alienate some of the “key players in the conversation.”
“I don’t think that’s the way to build unity,” she said. “Here we go, back to the future, picking winners and losers. That’s pitting American jobs against one another. That can create and will create resentment across the country. I urge President Biden, let’s tackle our climate challenges together.”
Manchin is convinced those challenges can be handled working together and not only face the climate crisis but also bring jobs to West Virginia and other states to replace those jobs that have been and will be lost as a result of the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
“I am hoping there is no one in West Virginia that still denies that climate changes are real and humans have had tremendous impact on Mother Earth,” he said. “So we have a responsibility.”
But Manchin takes a gradual, cautious approach, not just starting the process of eliminating fossil fuels completely. In fact, he said that transition to renewable energy will be market-driven.
“The market will eliminate fossil if there is another dependable, reliable and affordable energy,” he said. “The market will not eliminate fossil whether it be coal, natural gas or oil, unless that happens.”
Renewable energy will not provide that alternative anytime soon, he said.
“We have lost 50 percent of our load as far as demand on coal,” he said, referring to power plants and the drop of dependency on coal from about 40 percent 10 years ago to 20 percent, much of it now going to natural gas.
“The market changed,” he said, referring to natural gas as well as wind and solar, which are now more competitive and more cost-effective.
But one of the main problems with renewables now, though, is a lack of a “baseload,” he said, referring to the ability to store energy and release it when needed. That is crucial to maintain a stable, reliable power grid.
World demand for fossil fuels is also a factor.
“You are going to have to have fossil,” he said. “As you look around the world today there is more fossil use today as countries are coming into more of a developed status…” Manchin said West Virginia should be the leader in new renewable technology, a point he has made to Biden.
“I said, ‘Joe, you can’t leave anybody behind. West Virginians … have done every tough, dirty job to be done to help our country, to defend us in any war, any aggression.”
Manchin said a good way to help would be to require renewable energy companies that use federal tax credits to incentivize their industry to locate in states that have seen the most job losses from the decline in coal.
“You do that and we will have all kind of opportunities,” he said, as well as a workforce ready to put their skills to use.
“A coal miner can build you the best damn windmill you have ever seen,” he said. “We will build you the best damn solar panel you’ve ever seen. And it will be better than any ever built. Just give us a chance.”
Make no mistake, he said, politicians can’t “just wish” for a change in the energy market.
“The markets change when the consumers want it to change,” he said. “That’s what they have to understand and until that complete transition happens I want to make sure that we are moving and able to sustain people with good jobs whether it be Bluefield, Fairmont, whether it be Beckley, they have a chance to have a good opportunity to get a good livelihood. That’s my job.”
Some progress is already being made.
Gov. Jim Justice recently announced the Black Rock Wind project, a wind farm in Grant and Mineral counties that will create at least 200 jobs and generate “millions of dollars of spending in the local community.”
Solar energy projects are also in the works.
Virginia recently announced the Coalfield Battery and Electrification effort that will focus on bringing electric vehicle battery manufacturing to the hard-hit coalfields of Southwest Virginia. The Ford Motor Company recently announced it will spend $11 billion bringing 40 electrified vehicles to market by 2022 as the interest in electric cars continues to soar.
These are the type of initiatives that Manchin wants to see as well as Capito, but she said former President Obama also talked about “giving industry time to transition and give workers clean energy jobs.”
Manchin said he thought he could work with Obama.
“He understood, but he went into a different direction,” he said, adding that he is hopeful Biden will stick to his plans to help West Virginia and other states that depend on fossil fuel jobs.
The transition will occur gradually, he said, and as it does he wants to also get a better overall view of how other nations are progressing, or not progressing, in dealing with climate change.
“The first meeting I am going to have in my Energy Committee is going to be called Global Climate Baseline,” he said. “I want people to have a set of facts. There’s very few of us that agree on any facts any more because we are getting information from so many different places.”
Manchin said he wants to be able to sit down and let people present the facts of what is happening in China or Indonesia or the Congo and other counties.
“Then give me an evaluation of the last decade and what they have done,” he said. “Have we improved? Or have we digressed? We had better put our minds around global and quit blaming the United States for everything.”
India is a growing market that has high demand for energy as more people have access to things like household appliances, and it’s also an example of how fossil fuels will continue to be used until alternatives that work are available.
“They don’t care what is coming out of the smokestack,” he said of people anywhere who enjoy the conveniences. “If you want to be a leader, you had better have new technology to be the leader of he world.”
Manchin said he knows he is not the most popular person with the far left group of the Democratic Party who have aspirations for a Green New Deal, which he describes as “aspirational, but absolutely not applicable whatsoever.”
He is not concerned about any criticisms of his stances on issues.
“I can tell you one thing, I am the most balanced,” he said. “I can back up what I am saying.”
Contact Charles Boothe at firstname.lastname@example.org