5 times Joe Manchin changed the course of climate policy in the Senate

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who was among the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the chamber, announced Thursday that he will not seek reelection in 2024.

Manchin has chaired the Senate Energy Committee since 2021, making him a key and often decisive vote on President Biden’s energy and environment agenda.

Manchin has presented himself as a moderating force, often putting him at odds with the president. His critics have pointed to his financial ties to the coal industry. Here are five pivotal moments on energy and environmental policy during Manchin’s time in the Senate.

Opposition to cap-and-trade legislation

Manchin, then governor of West Virginia, announced in 2010 that he would run to finish the final term of the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D). The state had grown considerably more Republican since the last time the seat was open, and then-President Obama was particularly unpopular in the state.

Manchin ran on a vow to oppose administration policies that could restrict the fossil fuel industry, including the Waxman-Markey carbon-capping bill. The bill would have created a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions and boosted alternative energy investments.

During his 2010 campaign, Manchin ran an ad in which he shot a paper copy of the bill with a rifle. The bill passed the House but never got a vote in the Senate.

Killing the Build Back Better Act

President Biden entered office with a razor-thin 50-50 Senate majority, with Vice President Harris as the tiebreaker. This made Manchin essential to any major legislation and his center-right positions a major obstacle to Biden’s ambitious climate plans.

The $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, introduced alongside the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, was the largest climate-related legislation ever introduced in the U.S., with $555 billion toward renewables and climate change mitigation.

However, after months of negotiations and passage by the House, Manchin announced the following January that he would not support the bill without a substantial rewrite.

Clearing the way for Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary

Then-Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) was a close ally of environmentalists and progressives in the House. Those groups rejoiced when Biden nominated her as Interior Secretary, but her nomination required her to secure the support of the Senate Energy Committee, chaired by Manchin.

There were question marks as to whether the West Virginia senator would back Haaland, a Green New Deal supporter, a week after coming out against the nomination of Neera Tanden to chair the Office of Management and Budget.

Ultimately, however, he backed the nomination, saying that “while we do not agree on every issue, she reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, addressing the diverse needs of our country and maintaining our nation’s energy independence.” Haaland was confirmed by the full Senate 51-40.

Striking a deal on the Inflation Reduction Act

Manchin’s refusal to support the Build Back Better Act seemed to scuttle the last chance to pass major climate legislation before midterm elections in which Democrats were widely expected to lose one or both chambers.

In August 2022, however, Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced a deal on the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a smaller climate and social spending bill that would nonetheless be the largest climate law in U.S. history.

Independent analyses have projected the law, which allocates nearly $800 billion toward climate change and energy, will reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 40 percent compared with 2005 levels. The measure passed the Senate along party lines Aug. 7, with Harris breaking the tie.

Blocking other Biden energy and environment nominees

Despite Manchin’s role in Haaland’s confirmation and the IRA, the senator turned against both the implementation of the law and many of Biden’s ensuing nominees.

In May of this year, he announced he would block all Biden nominees for Environmental Protection Agency positions over what he called the administration’s “radical climate agenda,” specifically citing proposed rules for power plants.

The following week, Manchin pulled a scheduled vote for Jeff Marootian, the nominee for assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, citing energy efficiency rules that he called “part of a broader, Administration-wide effort to eliminate fossil fuels.” He also pulled his support in March from Laura Daniel-Davis, Biden’s nominee for assistant secretary for lands and mineral management, after twice voting for her in 2021 and 2022.

Daniel-Davis was named acting deputy Interior secretary last week, which Manchin called “troubling.”

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