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Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Corner: Manchin involvement with coal a real problem

Sen. Joe Manchin III really likes throwing around the word “entitlements” lately. The senator keeps emphasizing when the media catches up with him that he doesn’t want our society to become an “entitlement society.” Sen. Manchin, to quote Inigo Montoya from “The Princess Bride,” “you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Warren Gunnels, majority staff director for Sen. Bernie Sanders, recently posted a tweet asking, “Does paying a lower tax rate on $500,000 in dividends from coal stocks than a registered nurse who makes $80,000 a year represent an entitlement society?” Warren was referring to approximately what Joe Manchin makes annually from the coal brokerage he founded called Enersystems. Bloomberg’s Ari Natter recently asked Manchin about Enersystems and if it represents a conflict of interest as Manchin negotiates climate provisions in reconciliation legislation. Manchin stated that the company is in a blind trust. Ari mentioned that Manchin gets dividends from the company, to which Manchin replied, “You got a problem?” Ari also mentioned that Manchin’s son still owns the company, to which Manchin replied, “You’d do best to change the subject.”

As a constituent of Manchin’s in West Virginia let me just say unequivocally that my answer to the first question Manchin posed to Ari is yes, Senator, I have a big problem with you negotiating climate provisions in legislation while you directly profit from the coal industry. I also have a big problem with the fact that, according to OpenSecrets.org, a website run by the Center for Responsive Politics, Manchin is the top recipient in the Senate this cycle of fossil fuels industry money. Now why would that be? Oh yea, Manchin is Committee Chairman for the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee.

A recent analysis by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy shows that West Virginia would benefit immensely from the Build Back Better reconciliation legislation being proposed by the House Ways and Means Committee, which Manchin is threatening. The legislation, if enacted, would bring paid family and medical leave to 690,000 West Virginians; monthly Child Tax Credit payments would be made available for 346,000 West Virginian children; 22,000 West Virginia children would be lifted out of poverty; affordable child care and education would be made available for 89,607 West Virginia children under 5, and an average of $103 per week in child care costs would be saved; housing assistance would be made available for 8,000 West Virginians, including 3,000 kids; Earned Income Tax Credit extensions would be made for 102,900 West Virginia workers; and Summer EBT benefits would be available for 222,000 West Virginia kids.

How would this legislation be paid for in West Virginia? WVCBP covers that too. Their analysis shows that taxes would increase 2 percent for those making $443,400+ a year and 0.3 percent for those making $181,800 to $443,400 a year. Taxes would be reduced for every other cohort. Increased tobacco taxes will hit every income cohort but will generally be offset for lower-and-middle income groups by the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit.

$350 billion a year spent investing in the care economy like social workers and at-home care providers, climate change adaptation and mitigation, childcare, housing, income, and food support to meet our state’s dire needs, and other human infrastructure needs in addition to the bipartisan infrastructure bill Manchin supports–what about any of this says “entitlement” to Manchin? If Manchin is truly concerned about deficits and debt, then why did he sign off on a $778 billion National Defense Authorization Act just for Fiscal Year 2022? If he’s truly worried about inflation, maybe he needs to pressure the pharmaceutical industry to worry more about vaccine availability globally and less about profits so that we can escape global supply chain issues still impacted by COVID-19. His daughter Heather is connected in the industry (see: EpiPen prices and Mylan jobs leaving West Virginia), maybe she could speak with Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech execs.

Manchin needs to listen to West Virginians. Polls show majorities of us support the Build Back Better legislation. It’s pathetic when West Virginians must kayak up to Joe’s yacht in D.C. just to be heard. Stop worrying about your bottom line and your re-election prospects three years from now and get this done, Joe.

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Eric Engle is chairman of the not-for-profit volunteer organization Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, Board Member for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, and Co-Chairman of the Sierra Club of West Virginia Chapter’s Executive Committee.

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