Democratic Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia has always been at odds with the majority of his fellow Democrats in terms of environmental protection, but his statements a few weeks ago show that he might have actually become an enemy to the environment.
In early April, Manchin told The Wall Street Journal that while Republicans have plenty of “deniers” on their side who refuse to admit that climate change is real, the Democratic Party has plenty of “deniers”, too. According to Manchin, those “deniers” are the ones who believe that the United States can move to a fossil fuel-free society.
In his own words: “Even worse than that, we have deniers that believe we’re going to run this country or run this world without fossil…That’s a worse denier, thinking they’re just going to just shift it and everything’s going to be hunky-dory.”
What Senator Manchin failed to add during his interview is that he’s received more than $1 million in campaign contributions from the mining and electric utility sectors over the course of his career, an amount that obviously helps to shape his position on renewable energy.
Worse still is that Manchin’s assertion is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because of his inability to see the role that renewable energy could play in the U.S., he refuses to allow that role to be filled making us increasingly dependent on fossil fuels.
Manchin’s statement also underscores the problems plaguing his constituents in West Virginia. With the coal industry dying off, thousands of workers in the state are finding themselves without a job and no sign of a stable future. West Virginia’s economy sees an average of $3.5 billion a year from the coal industry, though that number has been declining steadily every year since 2013.
But the state was not prepared for the decline in coal activities and didn’t take the same steps as other coal-dependent states like Kentucky to train workers in new fields to prevent an economic disaster. Manchin sees this economic downturn as a way to get voters to his side, so he chastises his fellow Democrats who dare to offer a clean energy future.
The truth is that the technology does exist to completely kick the United States’ fossil fuel addiction if we decided to do so. Electric vehicles are no longer science fiction. Wind and solar have become the fastest growing part of the energy sector, while coal companies are going bankrupt due to a massive decrease in demand (and losing tens of thousands of jobs.)
The only issue we have in switching to a renewable economy is that the U.S. is still lagging far behind in creating the necessary infrastructure to deliver clean energy on a large scale.
But again, the infrastructure problem is one that has a simple solution that some of the more responsible politicians in Washington are trying to address in spite of people like Joe Manchin. For example, Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. from New Jersey penned an op-ed recently where he explained exactly why the energy delivery system in the United States is falling behind, as well as what we’re doing to try to bring it up to speed.
From Pallone’s op-ed:
With modest federal investment, we could accelerate the pace of grid improvement. A perfect example of this is the Department of Energy’s recent work with the New Jersey transit system to create the NJ Transitgrid, which incorporates renewables, distributed generation and a microgrid design to assure power for NJ transit facilities during and after extreme weather events.
As part of the larger energy bill, Democrats worked to create a grant program to support similar innovative state and local government efforts to modernize the electric grid to make it more reliable and resilient.
Unfortunately, the final Republican energy bill passed by the House was designed for the energy sector of the past. Instead of embracing new distributed and renewable technologies, cutting edge energy storage and demand response, the Republican bill subsidized the large, expensive and inflexible facilities and energy sources of the past. The final bill did not include any funding to address some of the significant energy infrastructure issues our nation is facing.
As long as people like Manchin continue to hold seats of power and influence in the United States, it is unlikely that the current energy system is going to change. Progress requires change, and if the politicians aren’t able to keep up with the times then they need to go in the same direction that the coal industry is headed so that they no longer stand in the way of progress.