Environmental activists are putting pressure on Democrats to deny Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) a promotion to the ranking position on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Manchin is known for his strong support for coal and other fossil fuels.
The Democratic takeover of the House in January will provide climate champions an opportunity to push through the type of legislation needed to help avert climate catastrophe. On the Senate side, where Republicans still hold the majority, climate hawks are hoping top Democrats will serve as proselytizers for bold climate action in their ranking positions.
Based on his voting record, Manchin — who is viewed as the frontrunner for the top Democratic spot on the Senate Energy Committee — could undermine the Democratic Party’s commitment to climate action if he is chosen to head the committee for the Democrats.
Along with his strong support for President Donald Trump’s efforts to keep old, carbon-spewing coal plants open, Manchin has voted in favor of many of the president’s anti-environment nominees, including former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Manchin also voted to confirm current acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler when he was up for a vote to become deputy EPA administrator last April. And last week Manchin told reporters he plans to vote to confirm Bernard McNamee, the anti-renewable energy nominee to fill an open position on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who is leading the charge in the House for a Green New Deal, expressed apprehension with Manchin taking over the ranking member slot on the Senate Energy Committee.
“I have concerns,” she said Friday at a Capitol Hill press briefing, “because I don’t think we should be financed by the industries that we are supposed to be legislating and regulating.”
Ocasio-Cortez, together with activist groups, is pressuring Democratic lawmakers to reject donations from fossil fuel companies and accept a Green New Deal, a proposal designed to shift the U.S. away from fossil fuels and toward green energy.
The 2018 midterm election results added some drama to who will serve as the top Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the panel’s current ranking member, is reportedly considering taking over the top Democratic position on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which opened up when Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) lost his reelection bid in November.
Cantwell’s office said she has not decided whether to move to the Senate Commerce Committee. If she does depart, the ranking slot on the Senate Energy Committee would open up.
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are ahead of Manchin in seniority on the committee but have not expressed interest in taking over if Cantwell moves to the Senate Commerce Committee.
On Monday, dozens of people, including members of Sunrise New York and Indivisible Brooklyn, rallied outside the Manhattan office of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to demand that he use his power to ensure Manchin is not the top choice for Cantwell’s potential replacement.
“Putting someone who has taken $1 million from fossil fuel CEOs in charge of climate policy is like pouring oil on a fire and saying you’re trying to put it out,” Aracely Jimenez, a member of Sunrise New York, said Monday in a statement. “As momentum builds for a Green New Deal, Sen. Schumer has an opportunity to appoint a ranking member who will help the legislation we need to preserve the planet for our generation.”
Amid the opposition to his potential new appointment, Manchin told Politico last Thursday that he was willing to meet with environmental groups who opposed his taking the ranking member position. “Tell them to please come talk to me. If you talk to them, tell them Sen. Manchin is open,” he reportedly said.
At Friday’s Capitol Hill press briefing, Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) didn’t express much concern about Manchin possibly becoming the ranking member of the committee. “Those are not barriers,” she said of Manchin’s close relationship with the fossil fuel industry. “It just means we have to work harder.”
“To me, it’s going to have to come from the local level,” she said. “We’ll go to his [state] and we’ll make sure every single person knows what side that he’s on.”