The Ghost of Enron Haunts Joe Manchin’s Coal Fortune

If there was every any confusion as to where West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s loyalties lie, the last budget season put paid to that with interest. His seemingly bottomless vigor in dismantling President Biden’s signature infrastructure/climate bills showed the world that he cares not for his party, his beleaguered president, his own people back home who he screwed right through their Carhartt jeans, or the planet whose resources have gifted him wealth, yachts and influence.

Manchin’s focus is almost entirely on one thing: coal. It is hard to believe that Manchin’s fortune was built on the sale of garbage, given the extent of the damage he has done in defending his filthy gold nuggets. “Gob,” it is called, a form of trash coal “that is typically cast aside as junk by mining companies but can be burned to produce electricity,” according to a damning New York Times report on the roots of the senator’s financial success.

“Gob,” or waste coal, is, according to the Energy Justice Network: “waste coal piles accumulated mostly between 1900 and 1970. The piles look a lot like small mountains or hills, but they are barren and dark. In the mining states, hundreds upon millions of tons of coal and rock litter the landscape. Metals, such as manganese and iron, are leached from waste coal piles into waterways. Acid drainage can also cause pollution that kills streams nearby. Sometimes, these piles catch fire and release toxic pollutants into the atmosphere. Nationally, waste coal averages 60% of the BTU value normal coals. It can take up to twice as much waste coal to produce the same amount of electricity.”

In 1987, Joe Manchin, a younger man, helped developers to build the Grant Town coal-power plant. After completing the plant’s construction, he went into business and has been selling gob coal to its operators for over a decade. Grant Town is Manchin’s only client, and he has guarded its interests zealously over the years, often crossing lines of propriety and even seeming legality as his political star rose to the governor’s office in West Virginia, and then to the Senate.

More, see the Times report:

According to federal data, he started his business as a state lawmaker in anticipation for Grant Town’s plant. Grant Town has been his sole customer for the past 20 year. He used his political influence to help the plant at key moments throughout the years. He urged a state official to approve its air pollution permit, pushed fellow lawmakers to support a tax credit that helped the plant, and worked behind the scenes to facilitate a rate increase that drove up revenue for the plant — and electricity costs for West Virginians.

Records show that several energy corporations owned ownership stakes at the power plant. These are major corporations with interests beyond West Virginia. At different points, these corporations tried to influence the Senate, including legislation before the committees where Mr. Manchin sat. It created what ethics experts refer to as a conflict-of-interest.

To add actual insult to actual injury, Manchin’s role in gob coal sales to the Grant Town plant has been screwing over West Virginians for going on 35 years now. Gob coal is slow and dirty, and generates less electricity per pound. This practice “has harmed West Virginians economically, costing them hundreds of millions of dollars in excess electricity fees. That’s because gob is a less efficient power source than regular coal,” accordingTo the Times report.

This is what I felt when I read it. It was a crypt that had been 20 years old and was now open to my memories. What does this remind you of?

They’re f——g taking all the money back from you guys? All the money you took from California’s poor grandmothers?

Yes, grandma Millie.

Yeah, now she wants her f——g money back for all the power you’ve charged right up, jammed right up her a—— for f——g $250 a megawatt hour.

You remember it, and if it’s new to you, you’d better find out; it is a year 2000 transcriptTwo Enron employees had a conversation about the energy-wasting practices of the fallen corporate giant. Enron was all set for the I.G. Farben of George W. Bush’s administration until Enron suddenly exploded and died in a dizzying explosion of corruption and price fixing charges.

“Enron was the number one career patron for George W. Bush,” Center for Public Integrity director Charles Lewis told ABC News In December 2001. “There was no company in America closer to George W. Bush than Enron.” Lewis says the company’s goal in backing Bush and other politicians was to encourage further deregulation of the energy industry.”

“In an earlier conversation from Aug. 5, 2000,” continues ABC News, “two traders, identified as Person 1 and Person 2, gleefully discuss how a wildfire in California has reduced the ability of a transmission line to carry electricity, boosting the value of power in parts of the state and the profits on electricity trades they have made.”

Person 2: The magical word of the day is ”Burn, Baby, Burn”-

Person 1: What’s happening?

Person 2: There’s a fire under the core line it’s been de-rated from 45 to 2,100.

Person 1: Are you really?

Person 2: Yup.

Together: Burn, baby, burn.

Person 1: That’s a beautiful saying.

Bush and his administration were able to navigate the Enron raindrops with no water damage thanks to September 11, 2001 and the twin-bill wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. The company itself was obliterated beneath the crush weight of its own institutional corruption, and the principal author of all that misery — Ken Lay — dropped dead of a heart attack in 2006.

Grandma Millie to get cash by the megawatt hour, by selling a substandard product and being overpriced? Gaming the system using powerful political connections Total disregard for the customer and the rules and regulations. Golly, it sounds like Joe Manchin’s sweet Grant Town gig and Enron have quite a bit in common, lo’ these 35 years hence.

“What is dead may never die,” read the words of House Greyjoy, “but rises again harder and stronger.”

Indeed. Thanks, Joe. Enjoy your good fortune and tell Ken Lay hi when you get the chance.

Rust never sleeps. Greed is also a constant companion. Coal is also not a good option. Joe Manchin doesn’t appear to be either.