During his decade in the Senate, it’s no secret that Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has been a strong supporter of fossil fuels. The barely blue Democrat is now almost solely responsible for delay progress on the $ 3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill, as it calls for major changes in how the bill would put the country on a cleaner energy path by 2030.
But while the West Virginia senator’s ties to coal and oil are open and obvious, they aren’t the only polluters who have helped keep Manchin in power. The utilities industry – particularly utilities that rely on fossil fuels – has been a major little-reviewed funder behind Manchin’s career, and it is executing some of their big wishlist items when it comes to it. law Project.
According to OpenSecrets, during Joe Manchin’s entire career, utilities have been his seventh largest global donor by sector, just behind the oil and gas industry (oil interests gave Manchin $ 670,945, while utilities gave $ 647,452). Manchin is, in fact, the second largest recipient of utility money in the Senate so far for the 2022 election cycle (Majority Leader Chuck Schumer takes first place).
The Reconciliation Bill has a powerful tool to decarbonize public services, known as the Clean Electricity Performance Program, or CEPP. This section of the package defines what counts as clean energy and sets up a system to get utilities to decarbonize at a rate that would help the country meet President Joe Biden’s stated goals of achieving 80% carbon-free energy. by 2030. Some utilities, such as PSEG, publicly supported the proposal, which would financially reward public services for cleaning up their energy mix. But some of Manchin’s biggest donors oppose the proposal.
American Electric Power, a huge investor-owned utility that provides service in 11 states including West Virginia, has become the loudest utility to voice concerns about the bill. While the AEP website complaints that climate change is “a key issue” for the company, the public service sent a letter to lawmakers in September complaining that CEPP would force utilities to extinguish dirty fuels far too quickly. (It should be noted that AEP has a history, along with other utilities, of promote climate denial, and was a member of the ALEC until 2016.)
Between 2010 and 2014, the PAC of the AEP donated $ 70,000 to the Manchin PAC, FEC data show. Nick Akins, the utility’s CEO, also has a special relationship with Manchin. Like the New York Times reported in SeptemberManchin and Akins are friends: they have each other’s cell phone numbers and Manchin, according to the Times, “listens carefully” to what Akins has to say on the bill. Akins told the newspaper he believes utilities are moving away from fossil fuels manner too fast. He argued that the federal government should not punish companies that don’t clean up their actions, instead letting them take their time to make it happen.
In the past, Akins has supported his friend with financial support from his own pocket. Manchin was elected in a special election in 2010 and was re-elected in 2012. In 2010 and 2011, Akins personally donated a total of $ 3,500 in the election of Manchin PAC. (Several other AEP employees, including President Michael Morris, too gave Manchin meanwhile.)
Manchin and Akins, in fact, are such friends as the CEO interviewed the senator in June at a conference hosted by the Edison Electric Institute, the leading lobbying arm of the utilities industry (and, along with the AEP and other utilities, a great historical author of climate denial). The conference was called “The Road To Net Zero,” but Manchin seized the opportunity during his remarks to support coal and cast doubt on Biden’s timetable for phasing out fossil fuels. Akins introduced Manchin to the crowd as “a more important person, not just for our country, but for our industry”.
The ASP is not the only Manchin supporter pushing for an easier bill on dirty utilities. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, an organization that represents 900 small electricity cooperatives across the country, also expressed his opposition at CEPP. This group’s PAC donated $ 25,000 to the Manchin PAC between 2010 and 2017. The American Public Power Association, another utility industry group that spoke out against CEPP, gave to Manchin twice in 2010 and 2015 for a total of $ 1,750.
Other donations show how the coal and mining industries, historically one of Manchin’s main and staunch supporters, can unite with smaller utilities for similar goals by foiling the larger ones. major clean energy initiatives. America’s Power, a coalition of rural utilities, railways and coal interests, sent a letter to lawmakers in September denouncing how CEPP would phase out coal by 2030, saying coal “will be needed for the foreseeable future.” Michelle Bloodworth, chairman of the group, also justified the continued use of US coal in the letter because “China’s coal fleet continues to grow.” (Eight days later, China announced it would no longer finance coal-fired electricity abroad, moving closer to the shutdown of power plants at home.)
FEC the data shows that at least one of the group members, the mining company Peabody Energy, donated $ 15,500 to the Manchin PAC between 2010 and 2017. (Manchin earned over $ 5 million in dividends last year of a coal company he founded in the 1980s, so he has a vested interest in the utilities that continue to use coal.)
Even what appears to be Build Back Better support from some industry groups can come with dirty fuel conditions. Asked about the bill by E&E News in September, EEI said he supported what he called a “well-designed” clean energy standard – which the lobby group said included a lot of room for natural gas in the energy mix until 2030. Manchin echoed this, push aggressively for natural gas to have a bigger role in the clean energy agenda and to say that it “has to be” included. The group too told the Financial Times that the CEPP schedule was difficult ”and“ arbitrary ”, although analyzes have shown that the schedule gives the world a 50-50 shot to respect the Paris Agreement and maybe not aggressive enough. EEI donated $ 15,500 to the Manchin PAC between 2010 and 2018.
Some of Manchin’s other big dirty donors, including utilities like FirstEnergy, have so far remained publicly silent on the bill. But that doesn’t mean they don’t work behind the scenes to sway decisions one way or the other. And as we have constantly seen in recent years, public services can be decisive actors in energy policy; after all, there is no point in a politician like Manchin creating lifelines for coal if there are no power stations willing to buy it. Given the track record of these companies in use donations for political purposes and silence the opposition, as well as the way we see their wishes come true on the Hill right now, maybe it’s time to put them through the same kind of scrutiny that we reserve for other dirty industries.