The Biden administration has pledged to at least start tackling the climate crisis this year as part of its infrastructure plan. Whether it does so depends largely on West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.
Manchin, who shot a copy of Barack Obama’s cap-and-trade climate proposal in a 2010 campaign ad, is now chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. He has starred in countless reports on infrastructure bills: as the key wavering vote needed to drag Biden’s $ 3.5 trillion reconciliation bill – which mandates the phase-out of fuels fossils – in front of a Republican obstruction and as the main broker of the parallel bipartisan bill. which completely removed the climatic provisions.
As Vox (4/1/21) reported when the infrastructure package first fell into place:
Determining whether Biden will be able to deliver on his promises of decarbonizing the economy necessarily involves an investigation of the beliefs, motives, and intentions of one man: Manchin.
The problem is, corporate journalists don’t seem so interested in Manchin’s “motives”. If they were, they would have to tell their audience that Manchin has a huge conflict of interest when it comes to fossil fuels.
As Sludge’s David Moore (7/21/21) pointed out, Manchin founded in 1998 a coal brokerage firm, Enersystems, which sells coal to local power stations. He has since passed it on to his son, but it continues to be lucrative work for the senator: his last financial disclosure reported $ 492,000 in income from Enersystems shares for 2020. Since taking office in 2010, he earned over $ 4.5 million. coal.
Every press article on Manchin and the climate bill should name this conflict. Any reporter asking Manchin what he thinks of the climate provisions should also question his private interests in the bill. But in the past four months, we’ve found exactly two US stories in the entire Nexis news database of newspapers, magazines, and TV news shows that even mentioned Enersystems.
Both mentions implied that Manchin’s relationship with the company was over. Neither of them questioned the Manchin conflict.
The first came in a long New York profile of Manchin (6/28/21). Out of more than 8,000 words, two sentences were devoted to Enersystems:
Outside of government he had become a successful coal broker, running a business called Enersystems. (In his most recent disclosures to the Senate, he and [his wife] Gayle has reported a net worth of between $ 4 million and $ 13 million.)
Referring only to value, not income, the parenthesis suggests that while Manchin and his wife built a fortune with coal, he no longer benefits directly from it.
The other came from the New York Times in a web-only article (6/28/21): “Can Biden Get a Coal-State Democrat on Board With His Climate Agenda?” Journalist Giovanni Russonello moved closer to the conflict, writing that Manchin “himself has close ties to” the energy industry, but referred to Manchin’s relationship with Enersystems as if it were the past. :
Through [the time he arrived in the Senate] Mr. Manchin had already made millions from his involvement in the coal brokerage firm Enersystems, which he had helped run before entering politics, and which continued to pay him dividends thereafter.
Russonello wrote that West Virginia’s deep red politics, “along with its history as an ally of the coal industry and other business interests, help explain why Mr. Manchin insisted on bipartisanship.” . The article only cited observers who claimed to believe that Manchin votes strictly with the interests of his constituents in mind.
With Manchin’s huge financial stake in the perfectly obscured coal industry, why would anyone doubt such claims?
Maybe The Times feels like it did its homework on the Manchin Conflict, since it spoke at length about it – in 2011. Overwhelmingly, Russonello’s article is linked to this article from 2011. , which detailed Manchin’s ongoing “lucrative ties” to coal. But neither Russonello nor his editors apparently cared enough about the conflict of interest to account for their persistence or relevance today.
In the past three months, there has been a single mention of Manchin’s coal revenue that has actually portrayed it as a conflict – a column by Alex Kotch in the British Guardian (7/20/21), which has also pointed out that Manchin was trying to strip the conflict of interest rules from the For the People Act. (Journalists want to inquire about Manchin’s motives there?)
Asked about the Democratic Infrastructure Bill last week, Manchin told CNN (7/14/21):
I’m finding there’s a lot of language in the places where they remove fossils, which is very, very disturbing, because if you put your head in the sand and say that this fossil [fuel] has to be eliminated in America, and they want to get rid of it, and thinking it’s going to clean up the global climate, it’s not going to clean everything up. If anything, it would be worse.
The quote resonated in the information ecosystem in the United States. Some underline how completely unfounded the statement is. None reported the conflict of interest.