The Manchin industry
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which was released in August and represents the consensus of thousands of scientists, makes one thing abundantly clear: There is no sustainable rate of C02 emissions. To avoid the worst impacts of global warming, the world must get to net-zero emissions. That means transitioning off fossil fuels sooner rather than later.
In light of this reality, the Biden administration's reconciliation package — which can be approved by Congress without Republican support — includes "an aggressive climate policy that would compel utilities to stop burning fossil fuels and switch to wind, solar or nuclear energy." The reconciliation package represents the best chance to take urgently needed action on climate change. Any climate legislation outside of reconciliation would be filibustered by Senate Republicans.
Ultimately though, it will be members of Congress, not the Biden administration, that will author the climate-related portions of the reconciliation bill. And the person with the pen is Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). Manchin, the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is reportedly planning to "remake President Biden’s climate legislation in a way that tosses a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry."
While Manchin has acknowledged that fossil fuels contribute to climate change, he is planning to craft the climate portion of the reconciliation bill to "protect and extend the use of coal and natural gas." Manchin will have plenty of help from a phalanx of former staffers who are paid to represent the fossil fuel and energy industry.
A Popular Information review of the Senate Lobbying Database found that six former Manchin staffers are currently listed on 15 lobbying contracts with fossil fuel and energy companies. Collectively, these contracts are worth $2.4 million per year.
These lobbyists "spend much of their time serving as professional Manchin whisperers, advising clients on how Manchin thinks and, in some cases, lobbying his office." Lobbying rules allow former staffers to lobby their old bosses after one year.
Jonathan Kott, for example, formerly Manchin's communications director, was hired by a lobbying firm, Capitol Counsel, in June. Manchin even supplied a quote for Capitol Counsel's press release, saying Kott was a "trusted senior advisor for seven years."
Less than a month later, Kott was added to a $200,000 per year contract with the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM). Kott will be able to immediately be able to lobby Manchin because he worked for Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) before becoming a lobbyist. Kott told the Washington Post that he speaks with Manchin and his office regularly. “I try not to call him because he’s a busy man but I know he’s available when needed,” Kott said.
We don't know precisely what Kott has been chatting about with Manchin. But AFPM has actively opposed Biden's efforts to address climate change and reduce the use of fossil fuels. In August, the CEO of AFPM, Chet Thompson, published a column in the Billings Gazette saying that Biden needed a "different approach to environmental goals." Thompson objected to Biden's executive order "formalizing the goal that half of all new vehicle sales in the United States will be electric by 2030." He said the goal was a blow to "consumer choice" and called on Senator John Tester (D-MT) to demonstrate "courage and action" by opposing the move on behalf of "Montana fuel refiners."
Elliott Howard worked for Manchin in various capacities from 2016 until March of this year — most recently as a professional staff member for Manchin on the Senate Energy And Natural Resources Committee. In March, Howard joined Jim Massie & Partners, a boutique lobbying firm that specializes in representing energy companies, as a senior director. Since then, Howard has been listed on nine lobbying contracts with fossil fuel companies worth a collective $1.56 million. Howard's clients include BP, NRG Energy, and Colonial Pipeline, the largest oil pipeline in the United States.
Howard also represents the Climate Leadership Council, which sounds promising, but is actually an industry group that represents numerous fossil fuel companies. The group advocates for a carbon fee as an alternative to mandatory carbon emission reductions.
Other former Manchin aides with fossil fuel industry clients include former Chief of Staff Patrick Hayes (Exelon), former Chief of Staff Larry Puccio (Appalachian Natural Gas Operators Coalition), former Chief of Staff Hayden Rogers (National Mining Association), and former Legislative Assistant Thomas Lucas (Sempra Energy).
Oil and gas industry shower Manchin with campaign cash
Manchin is the top recipient of campaign cash from the oil and gas industry. In the 2021-2022 election cycle, Manchin has received more than $179,000 in contributions from the oil and gas industry, according to OpenSecrets.
This amount includes $13,000 from the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance (DEPA), a lobbying group founded by the billionaire oil tycoon Harold Hamm. In 2016, while serving as Trump’s energy advisor, Hamm said we should “double U.S. oil production.”
Over the years, Hamm has used the DEPA to advocate for more oil and gas drilling and less federal oversight. “Every time we can’t drill a well in America, terrorism is being funded. Every onerous regulation puts American lives at risk,” Hamm said.
The DEPA “have [also] led the fight to protect longstanding tax loopholes worth billions to the oil and gas industry,” reports the Rolling Stone. Hamm’s company, Continental Resources, also donated $5,000 to Manchin this year.
Manchin also received $2,500 from the American Gas Association (AGA), the gas industry’s most powerful trade group and a long-time supporter of Manchin’s career. The group has been notorious for its efforts to discourage the use of electrical appliances as a substitute for gas services. This year, an NPR investigation found that the AGA was “actively involved in passing state-level bills, along with utilities and local gas trade groups, that block critical local action to cut heat-trapping emissions.”
Other donors this election cycle include Marathon Oil ($10,000), Cabot Oil and Gas ($10,000), Consol Energy ($5,000), NextEra ($3,500) and Dominion Energy ($2,500).
Manchin's coal companies
Manchin doesn't just receive contributions from fossil fuel companies. He maintains lucrative ownership stakes in two coal companies that he founded, Enersystems and Farmington Resources. Enersystems "purchases low-quality waste coal from mines and resells it to power plants as fuel" and Farmington Resources "holds coal reserves" and supports mining activity.
The companies are currently run by Manchin's son, Joe Manchin IV. Senator Manchin's stock is held in a "blind trust." But Manchin, of course, is aware of his own financial stake and his son's economic interest in the firms. Manchin's stock has produced "more than $4.5 million" in dividends since Manchin joined the Senate in 2010.
A rapid move away from coal and other fossil fuels would likely have a negative financial impact on Manchin and his family.