Green Nightmare: Coal-Loving Manchin May Get Energy Panel Perch

(Bloomberg) -- West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin famously used a rifle to shoot a climate-change bill in a 2010 campaign ad, vowing to take “dead aim” at the landmark cap-and-trade legislation.

Now, Manchin, a staunch backer of his state’s coal industry, is poised to become the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has wide-ranging jurisdiction over energy policies and the use of federal lands, that, in turn, have an influence on global warming.

The prospect of Manchin, 71, who sometimes votes with President Donald Trump and had lunch with him on Monday, getting the committee post comes as Democrats are planning to use their new House majority to make fighting climate change a major priority. It has enraged progressives, who are pressuring Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer to take the unusual step of bypassing the chamber’s seniority rules and put another lawmaker in the job.

“Joe Manchin is an obviously unacceptable choice,” said Lukas Ross, a senior policy analyst at Friends of the Earth, an environmental organization. “Progressives are losing faith in Chuck Schumer if they haven’t already lost it.”

About two dozen or so demonstrators gathered in front of Schumer’s Manhattan office on Monday to demand that he not pick Manchin. They carried signs that said “Step Up Schumer” and chanted “Which side are you on?” The rally, which was webcast, was organized by the Sunrise Movement, the same group that led protesters to swarm the office of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi earlier this month to demand action on climate change.

Sunrise organizer Stephen O’Hanlon said that having Manchin as ranking member on the committee saps momentum for a so-called Green New Deal in the House. That plan, championed by progressives such as Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, envisions a transition by the U.S. to 100 percent renewable energy.

“Senator Schumer needs to make sure the Senate isn’t a roadblock to that,” O’Hanlon said.

Representatives for Manchin and Schumer declined to comment.

Manchin’s rise could come about if the current ranking member, Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, becomes the ranking minority member on the Commerce Committee, something she is considering after the current ranking member, Florida’s Bill Nelson, lost his re-election bid.

Next in line under the Senate’s seniority system is Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. But he is expected to keep his position as the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. After him comes Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont who has shown little interest in leaving his position as ranking member of the Budget Committee. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who would be next in line, said in an interview she wasn’t interested in leaving her position as the ranking member on the Agriculture Committee. “I like where I am,” she said.

West Virginia was the most pro-Trump state in 2016, but Manchin, a former governor who built his political career as a centrist, won a second full term in November.

Trump campaigned against him before the November elections, strongly supported his opponent, Patrick Morrisey, the state attorney general.

That animosity seemed to have been put aside when Trump and Manchin had lunch on Monday. "We have a rapport. I don’t know how else to say it. Our chemistry works," Manchin said.

The senator said he suggested that the president get behind bipartisan legislation on health care, immigration and miners’ pensions.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Manchin’s account of the lunch.

While Manchin has made it clear he’s not afraid to side with Republicans on issues that include gun rights and confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, his opponents might be “pleasantly surprised” if he were to lead Democrats on the energy committee, according to Kalee Kreider, a former adviser to Al Gore.

For instance, she said, Manchin is likely to champion strong funding for the Energy Department, including money for funding experimental energy research as well as land issues.

“I think there are going to be things he’s good on,” said Kreider. “He’s a thoughtful, intelligent person who has a complicated state.”

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