Friday, November 15, 2013

Joe Manchin's war on West Virginians

Obama's waging a war on coal, but Senator Manchin is only pushing back on behalf of the coal industry, rather than his constituents.

Earlier this year, President Obama gave a speech that essentially laid out his 2nd term climate policy, which, due to Congressional Republican fanaticism on the issue, involves a variety of executive actions including directing the Environmental Protection Agency to establish carbon dioxide emissions standards for existing and future power plants. 

In response, Sen. Joe Manchin D-W.Va. blasted the President’s proposal declaring, “It’s clear now that the President has declared a War on Coal. It’s simply unacceptable that one of the key elements of his climate change proposal places regulations on coal that are completely impossible to meet with existing technology.”

For starters, on the charge that the President is waging a “War on Coal,” well ... it’s true. As Juliet Eilperin at the Washington Post reports, Obama’s EPA has placed stricter limits on mercury and other air pollutants (staples of coal-fired plant pollution) and made it harder for coal companies to dump toxic waste from environmentally damaging strip mines into local streams and valleys. The administration is also a strong proponent of natural gas, a competitor of coal which emits nearly half the carbon coal does.

None of this of course should be problematic for anyone who actually cares about the future of this planet. Coal is a horrible pollutant and is one of the main fossil fuels responsible for the ongoing destruction of this planet’s environment. Any sort of measure that can reduce the proverbial bleeding caused by coal is a welcome sign.

Also, Obama’s “War on Coal” is not nearly as bad as Joe Manchin’s War on West Virginians.

The notion that Manchin is democratic representative of the people of West Virginia is false. Manchin is a paid shill for the coal companies. A look at his top political donors reveals that most of them include the major coal players in Appalachia. While this isn’t surprising for an Appalachian politician, Manchin is also in the unique position of currently profiting off the industry. In his 2009-10 financial disclosures, Manchin reportedly received $1.3 million from Energysystems Inc, a coal brokerage he worked for before his political career began. All of this should make necessary those “this person was paid for their endorsement” disclaimers companies put at the bottom of the screen during commercials whenever Manchin talks about coal.

It gets even worse when you look at his actual record. When Manchin was Governor of West Virginia, he sued the EPA for coal companies’ right to dump toxins from strip mining into streams despite the fact that they demolish the local aquatic wildlife population and double the rate at which cancer and birth defects occur in the surrounding areas.

Mountaintop removal mining is one method of extracting coal from beneath the Earth's surface that is commonly used throughout Appalachia.                                                                                                       (JW Randolph/Wikimedia Commons)

Or how about the case of Marsh Fork elementary school, located right next to a coal processing plant, which was giving a majority of the local children a myriad of respiratory problems, such as asthma and bronchitis. It also caused numerous other ailments like chronic headaches and nausea as well as exposing them to future long-term health problems. What did Governor Manchin do? He sent state inspectors to the site who, after performing a superficial analysis that didn’t actually check for toxins like nickel, arsenic, or mercury, found nothing wrong with the plant (despite the fact that the Mine Safety and Health Administration regularly cited the plant for health violations). Joe Manchin, a true champion for the people’s health!

After he got to the Senate, Manchin (who filmed a campaign ad where he literally fired a bullet through a piece of Cap-And-Trade legislation) continued to try to help coal companies kill people by drafting legislation, which would significantly impede the EPA’s ability to keep coal companies from polluting water (Mr. Manchin seriously has a violent vendetta against clean water). 

Manchin has also slid perfectly into the role of the Fox News Democrat (the Democrat who appears on the propaganda station to blast the President and therefore demonstrate how supposedly “radical” President Obama is), taking every opportunity he can to criticize the EPA and brag about how much of a “friend of coal” he is.

All of this accumulated information paints a revolting picture, the picture of a man who has spent his entire public life acting as a loyal servant to and enabling an industry that denigrates the environment it plunders and creates horrendous living conditions for the people caught in its wake. This is an industry which, while proclaiming itself as the “lifeblood” of West Virginia, has cut jobs in favor of technology, which causes immeasurable environmental damage (ironic considering Manchin and the industry never miss an opportunity to blast the president and his “job-killing” regulations).

The worst part of Manchin’s servile devotion to the coal industry is that it prevents West Virginia from diversifying its economy in a way that would free the state from a low-paying, dangerous, and destructive industry. 

When you’re essentially a spokesman for the coal industry and you owe your entire political existence to coal companies, you serve the interests of the coal companies and ignore helping and serving the needs of your constituents. Manchin’s tenure as governor was defined by low economic growth, a high poverty rate, and a broken educational system, all linked to prioritizing an economy revolving around an industry that takes much and gives little instead of building sustainable societal infrastructure. 

Manchin’s campaign against the people of his state is infinitely more damaging than any sort of malfeasance caused by the President and the EPA’s much nobler War on Coal.

Matthew Byrd is a contributing writer for the Iowa Peace Network. Originally from Chicago, he is majoring in History and English at the University of Iowa. Matthew is also the Non-Fiction Editor at Ink Lit Mag, the UI Freshman literary magazine, and he writes for The Daily Iowan.

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