West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin—who at best could be described as a “frenemy” of the environment—will never be accused of overthinking things. Then again, if his brain were working at full capacity, it would likely be rollin’ coal on the Senate floor every single day, so maybe it’s a good thing he’s not quite firing on every cylinder. That said, a new Washington Post story on Manchin’s disputes with the Biden administration over its execution of the Inflation Reduction Act, also known as the IRA, which Manchin was instrumental in creating, is pretty funny.
It’s also quite telling: “Biden administration officials believe Manchin has at times misunderstood provisions of the legislation he wrote, and in some instances see his demands as requiring them to violate the law, according to three people familiar with the administration’s thinking.” In other words, this bituminous gob has no clue what he’s talking about. But we can’t say that directly because, well, he’s still a Democrat and we need him.
Regardless, Manchin is big mad. He thinks the Biden administration tricked him, and he’s now rather down on the big bill he brought into being through his intense negotiations with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last summer. Why is he suddenly against the IRA?
Because it’s doing too much to combat climate change, apparently.
The Washington Post:
Manchin isn’t the essential tiebreaking vote for Democrats in the Senate anymore, but a year after the enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act — which wouldn’t have passed without his support — he’s irate at the way Biden is implementing the law. And he’s fighting back: Besides his pressure on [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC for short], Manchin has vowed to oppose appointments to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department. He is even publicly flirting with running for president in 2024, an unlikely prospect but one that could be devastating for Biden — and a situation that senior White House officials are closely monitoring.
“I’m so absolutely in disagreement with how they’re trying to promote an energy policy … It’s just not all about, ‘All green and clean,’” Manchin said on a West Virginia radio show earlier this month. “I’m in disagreement continuously with them.”
As The Post recounts, toward the end of 2022, Manchin—who just happens to be the current chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee—became “deeply displeased” with FERC’s interpretation of the law, and balked at its efforts to help the Biden administration combat climate change. So he hobbled the agency by refusing to hold a reappointment hearing for FERC Chair Richard Glick, whose term was expiring. As a result, Manchin “effectively stripped the board of its Democratic majority, leaving it deadlocked and limiting its ability to advance renewable energy projects.”
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Meanwhile, Manchin has been a reliable gadfly when it comes to the Biden administration’s own interpretation of the Inflation Reduction Act.
Manchin has attacked the Biden administration at nearly every turn over its execution of the law — from rules on electric vehicle tax credits, which he says don’t do enough to force automakers to move their supply chains to the United States, to its implementation of a methane fee program, which he and other Democratic senators say unfairly punishes fossil fuel companies. He has told Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen that her work on the law is “out of [her] wheelhouse,” accused the administration of pushing a “radical climate agenda” and even threatened to work with Republicans to repeal his own legislation. On Wednesday, he skipped a first anniversary ceremony at the White House.
For the time being, anyway, Democrats are doing their best to play nice, given the part’s still razor-thin Senate majority and West Virginia’s enduring ruby-red hues.
“We appreciate the senator’s work on this,” John Podesta, a senior Biden administration climate adviser, told reporters on Wednesday. “The president and Sen. Manchin have been partners in developing an approach that led to the passage of the IRA, and we’re extremely thankful of that. We’re trying to implement it based on what the Congress passed. … Now, he has disagreed a little bit with some of those interpretations, but I think we are operating in good faith to get guidance out as quickly as possible.”
Which is a really polite way of saying “Manchin has at times misunderstood provisions of the legislation he himself wrote.” Which is already a polite way of saying “he doesn’t understand the words that are coming out of his (own) mouth.”
To be fair, it’s possible that some of his outrage is performative. Manchin is up for reelection in 2024, and West Virginia is now redder than a MAGA hat. Being seen as one of Biden’s chief antagonists and detractors will probably win him more votes than he loses. It’s kind of his thing.
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As The Post notes, Manchin’s poll numbers took a hit after he helped Schumer, Joe Biden, and the rest of the Democrats deliver on at least some of their renewable energy promises, so some of his objections might be seen as obvious posturing. Then again, Manchin has long been a friend of fossil fuel interests, and his own financial ties to the coal industry are extensive enough that they make him a “walking conflict of interest,” according to Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen. So there really is a strong chance that Biden bamboozled him. At least a little.
Though it’s fair to ask whether Biden tricked Manchin or Manchin tricked himself. Rather than being ensnared in an elaborate Rube Goldbergian trap set by evil, America-hating environmentalists, this feels a bit more like a squirrel accidentally getting his head stuck in a Mountain Dew can. And now he has to walk around like that in front of the whole Senate for the foreseeable future.
But while Biden would no doubt like to remain a good-faith partner of Manchin—considering the ongoing importance of his Senate vote—many of Biden’s allies in the fight against climate change hope the administration tells Manchin to go pound frac sand.
“The administration has yet to really walk away from a partner that has not upheld his part of the bargain and continues to ask for additional pounds of flesh and act as a hindrance and obstacle to implementation of this climate law,” Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce told The Post. “I don’t think they need to kowtow to Manchin continuing to be an obstacle.”
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