U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III on Friday held open the prospect of Congress passing significant climate legislation yet this year, denying reports he’s tanked the effort by walking away from talks with leadership.
The reports have brought a flood of criticism for Manchin from fellow members of Congress, who say the very survival of the planet is at stake.
Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat, gains unusual national attention for his remarks because he is in the center of his party’s negotiations over a major spending bill and represents a crucial vote in the evenly divided Senate.
Manchin on a West Virginia radio station talk show on Friday said he told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that after June’s consumer price index showed a 9.1% increase, he wanted to wait to see July’s inflation numbers and Federal Reserve interest rates before deciding what clean energy programs and tax changes he could support.
“Let’s wait until that comes out so that we know that we’re going down the path that won’t be inflammatory to add more to inflation,” Manchin said he told Schumer, a New York Democrat. “Inflation is absolutely killing many, many people… Can’t we wait to make sure that we do nothing to add to that?”
Schumer “took that as ‘no,’ I guess and came out with this big thing last night,” Manchin told Hoppy Kercheval, the host of the Metronews Talkline radio show in West Virginia.
The New York Democrat or someone close to him then told The Washington Post that talks were dead, Manchin implied.
The Post published a story Thursday night saying Manchin told Democratic leaders he wouldn’t support new climate programs or raising taxes on the wealthy.
Manchin seemed surprised by the Washington Post report, saying during a 15-minute interview with Kercheval that Schumer’s team knew where the West Virginian stood and that the sides had made major progress in the past few months.
He seemed to view the leak as a negotiating ploy, rejecting the conclusion that talks were at an end or even seriously set back.
“I’m not stopping,” he said. “This is rhetoric. I’ve been through this all my life, politically. I’ve never seen it at this level… thinking they’re going to put all this pressure on me. I am where I have been. I would not put my staff through this, I would not put myself through this if I wasn’t sincere.”
Manchin said Schumer wanted an agreement by the end of July on a budget reconciliation bill — a legislative tool that would allow Senate Democrats to pass legislation with a simple majority vote, which they’d gain with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie. Inflation figures for July will not be released until August, when the Senate will be in a month-long recess.
Manchin has also set a Sept. 30 deadline to reach a deal on a spending bill, making the four weeks the chamber is in session in September a crucial period.
That tight timeline was not an obstacle, he said Friday.
“We could come back the first of September and pass this legislation,” he said. “If it’s a good piece of legislation.”
Manchin said he thought he was “close” to a deal with Schumer.
“I thought we were,” he said. “I thought we were moving truly in the right direction.”
Energy policy differences
Manchin, who has financial ties to his state’s coal industry, said he supports spending for clean energy programs, but had disagreements with Democratic colleagues who he said wanted to eliminate production of oil, gas and coal.
That may happen in 20 years, but would not be possible in the next decade, Manchin said.
The U.S. should instead work on making fossil fuel production cleaner and on developing non-fossil fuel sources, including hydrogen and nuclear, he said.
Carbon emissions from fossil fuels are the dominant cause of global warming, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The international group has called for significant reductions to fossil fuel emissions in order to curb the worst effects of climate change. President Joe Biden has joined international efforts to reduce carbon emissions, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 50% of 2005 levels by 2030.
The White House proposed — and the Democratic-controlled House passed last year — more than $550 billion for climate programs, mostly tax credits for energy producers that use renewable sources.
Manchin’s objections sidelined that bill in December.
Manchin ‘whims’ criticized
Climate advocates in and out of Congress slammed Manchin on Friday, reacting to apparent news he had again blocked even a slimmed-down climate bill.
“Like most Americans right now, I am sickened that the changing whims of one man could put the very near future of our country, our planet, and our health and safety on the brink,” U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona said in a statement. “I think it’s shortsighted at best, reckless endangerment at worst.”
Grijalva also blamed Republicans for the impasse.
“It’s infuriating and nothing short of tragic that Senator Manchin is walking away, again, from taking essential action on climate and clean energy,” Minnesota Democratic Sen. Tina Smith said in a statement. “The world is literally burning while he joins every single Republican to stop strong action to cut emissions and speed the transition to clean energy for the survival of our planet.”
“We have an opportunity to address the climate crisis right now,” U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee that Manchin chairs, wrote on Twitter.
“Senator Manchin’s refusal to act is infuriating,” Heinrich added. “It makes me question why he’s Chair of ENR.”
“This failure falls squarely on Joe Manchin and the Republicans, as do the barren croplands, flooded homes, and incinerated communities that will result from this inaction,” said Manish Bapna, the president and CEO of environmental group NRDC Action Fund. “One of those Senators must reconsider.”
Representatives for Schumer, who has been absent from the Senate with COVID-19, did not respond to a message seeking comment Friday.