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Joe Manchin, the coal man, holds the fate of the entire world in his hands
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Joe Manchin, the coal man, holds the fate of the entire world in his hands

Stifling progress: US President Joe Biden (centre) with Joe Manchin (right). Manchin has long trodden a more conservative path than his Democratic peers, however patience is wearing thin even within the coal union.


Build Back Better, a stimulus package that also includes infrastructure measures, is also the US’s largest climate legislation: US$555 Billion ($770 Billion) is slated for renewable energy incentives and clean transportation in the next ten years. These commitments are crucial to the US’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52% compared to 2005 levels by 2030.

Hare, who spent a career in the climate frontlines as an advisor and lead author for IPCC and chief executive at the advisory group Climate Analytics points out that the US goal is significant not only for the amount of warming polluting it would keep out the sky but also for its diplomatic weight.


Consensus is the foundation of the international mechanism for dealing climate change. It’s only real fuel is peer pressure. While scientists might inform heads of state or government at gatherings like the recent Conference of Parties in Paris Climate Accord in Glasgow, their common language is of political pain.

The system works – to the extent that it does – when countries make mutually reinforcing commitments to reduce emissions. It seizes when some refuse to. (This point, more so than the sheer amount of Australian greenhouse gases emissions, is the real reason for our condemnation at the world climate stage.

Hare explains, “If Manchin blocks Build Back Better it grants China and India license to slow their emission decrease efforts.”

Manchin appeared on Fox News prior to Christmas to state that he couldn’t support BBB as it was written. A writer for the network was then prompted. Atlantic magazine to argue: “If that decision holds, then Manchin has virtually sealed the planet’s fate: the world is all but guaranteed to warm by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above its pre-industrial temperature by 2040.”

Hare doesn’t care if this is true. He sees a precedent where West Virginian coal interests are hindering global climate efforts.

In 1997, Congress passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution. This resolution prevented the US support for the Kyoto Protocol. Robert Byrd, a former Exalted Ciclops of Ku Klux Klan member who served as a Democratic senator in West Virginia for 51 year, was the late Robert Byrd.

Hare believes that the resolution, passed unanimously, gave cover for nations like India and Australia not to support Kyoto and eventually led to the collapse in 2009 of the Copenhagen climate talks.

He argues that the world lost a decade of climate action.

Manchin has been a conservative leader in his Democratic peers’ lives. This is a trait that the party accepts as it reflects West Virginia’s political culture. Manchin was governor of West Virginia from 2005 to 2010, before becoming a senator.

But patience has worn thin with Manchin’s obstruction since President Biden beat Donald Trump in 2020 without a clear majority in the Senate, only to see his agenda stalled.

Today even the coal unions which once backed Manchin’s dedicated support of their industry have lost faith.

“We urge Senator Manchin to revisit his opposition to this legislation and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working, and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families and their communities,” said United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts, a long-time ally of Manchin’s, in a statement four days before Christmas.

The union supports BBB because of the many measures it includes to support new industry and training in coal country.

Manchin has not been moved to date, and his stance has drawn harsh criticism from observers and Democrats.

Stifling progress: US President Joe Biden (centre) with Joe Manchin (right). Manchin has long trodden a more conservative path than his Democratic peers, however patience is wearing thin even within the coal union.

Stifling progress: Joe Manchin (right) and US President Joe Biden (centre). Manchin, who has long walked a more conservative route than his Democratic counterparts, is losing patience even within the coal union.Credit:AP

Where once Manchin’s backing of the coal industry was read as political expediency, some are now seeing it as personal.

Many, including the ones listed in The excoriating Rolling StoneProfile, have noted that Manchin’s vast family fortune comes not from toiling in mines but from trading in energy produced by burning the dirtiest form of fuel used in the region, a coal waste product known as “gob”.

“West Virginians have been paying millions of dollars each year in higher electricity costs in order to keep running a dirty, inefficient power plant that is sickening and killing people with dirty air, but paying the Manchin family handsomely,” Rolling Stone reported.

Mann and Hare, regardless of your stance on the matter, agree that Manchin is slowing down US and global action on climate change when scientists agree there is no room for error.

Chief executive of Australia’s Climate Council Amanda McKenzie takes a broader view.


“There is no denying that Biden’s Build Back Better policy would make a considerable difference for climate action, just as reaching the Paris Agreement did and the most recent US election before it,” she says. “But is it the single and only answer to the challenge before us? No. Global momentum is moving in the right direction, it just needs to be moving a lot faster.”

The climate world is watching Manchin as Biden attempts to end the impasses. Many in the Democratic Party would love to see West Virginians armed to pass the bill, including the social spending programs to which Manchin is still steadfastly opposed.

Others hope Biden will separate the climate initiatives from a larger package and break up the bill in order to support them.

He won’t do it, and it will not please his industry allies, who are determined to survive in a world that is turning against them.

“It’s coal,” says Hare in a grimly pragmatic tone. “It’s what coal does.”

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