The New York Times has done a deep dive on how Sen. Joe Manchin got rich off of the coal business, and in a nutshell: Holy crap, is Joe Manchin corrupt.
If you pay attention to Manchin, you might know that he gets around $500,000 a year in income from his own personal coal company. Maybe you know that Manchin’s coal company has one customer to which it provides waste coal—coal that burns extra dirty—that customer being the only power plant left in West Virginia burning the waste coal at an expensive loss. But it gets worse.
The Times investigation reveals that, in 1987, when Manchin was a state senator, he started helping the Grant Town power plant get up and running just outside his district. In 1988, while he was helping the power plant with the permits it needed, he set up his own business to provide that power plant with waste coal—garbage of bituminous, or gob. In 1989, the power plant got its permits and became the one customer of Manchin’s waste coal business.
To get the permits for the Grant Town power plant, Manchin got a state official to persuade Monongahela Power, also called Mon Power, to agree to limit emissions from one of its nearby power plants. That answered a concern from the Environmental Protection Agency that the two plants so close together could have produced excessive levels of sulfur dioxide. The official who helped Manchin with that told the Times he didn’t know Manchin had a financial stake in the Grant Town plant getting its permit, and “it would have bothered me.”
Manchin went on to negotiate a deal for a percentage of the gross revenue from the sales of electricity produced by burning the waste coal he provided. Not illegal or unique, but, “These aren’t deals you give to everybody,” according to a lawyer who specializes in mineral rights.
After the Grant Town power plant opened, it was one of three plants in West Virginia burning gob. Manchin, as a state legislator, successfully pushed a tax break for power plants that burn gob. Again, not illegal … but notably corrupt.
But there’s a reason more power plants don’t burn waste coal. It’s not just dirtier, it’s more expensive. “It contains more non-coal material, lowering the energy output and increasing the amount of ash,” as Mark Sumner has explained. “It also contains more sulfur and heavy metals, creating toxins that either go up the smokestack or into the coal slurry at the plant.” It didn’t take long for the company behind the Grant Town power plant to go asking for a rate increase, because operating costs were higher than predicted. The first time it asked for the rate increase, it was rejected. The second time, Joe Manchin was the governor of West Virginia, and the request was approved after Manchin’s chief of staff intervened with Monongahela Power.
”Since 2016, Grant Town has cost Mon Power $117 million more than it would have spent to buy that power from other sources, according to documents filed last year with the Public Service Commission,” the Times reports. “The utility had little choice but to buy the electricity; its contract with Grant Town doesn’t expire until 2036.” So the Grant Town power plant is causing pollution above the average coal-burning plant. It’s costing West Virginia utility customers extra money. But it’s funneling $500,000 a year into Joe Manchin’s pockets.
As Mark Sumner wrote last month, as the vote on which the Senate is balanced, Manchin could follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, the late Sen. Robert Byrd, and splash his legacy across West Virginia, bringing home giant piles of funding to create roads and schools and bridges and research centers and medical facilities named after Joe Manchin. Instead, he’s serving as a veto on Democratic priority after Democratic priority in defense of the coal industry—not of coal miners, but of coal mine owners. In particular, himself. It seems that Manchin cares more about propping up one dirty, money-losing power plant that provides him with $500,000 a year than about strengthening West Virginia’s economy for the next generation while creating a legacy for himself.
Everything Manchin has done may be legal. But it’s short-sighted and corrupt as hell.