West Virginians Gear Up for “Coal Baron Blockade” at Joe Manchin’s Coal Plant

Since Sen. Joe Manchin has blockaded Democrats’ landmark Build Back Better climate and jobs legislation, at least 400West Virginians, and allied activists, say they plan to reciprocate the gesture in kind through blockading Senator Manchin’s family businessSaturday, April 9 at the Grant Town Power Plant

Dozens and dozens of activists working in coalition under the banner West Virginia Rising, with support from organizations such as Rising Tide North America are planning to be arrested. blocking traffic to the 80-megawatt, coal-fired plantGrant Town, West Virginia. Senator Manchin earns nearly $500,000 a year from Enersystems, Inc., his family business that sells coal gob for the Grant Town Power Plant. Senator Manchin’s son, Joseph Manchin IV, runs the company.

Enersystems, a Fairmont-based coal brokerage company, was founded by Manchin in 1988. He reported making $5.6 million off company stock from 2010 to 2020 — all while working to protect the coal industry and gut critical environmental laws to increase his own revenues as part of the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which he has chaired since February 3, 2021.

He even helped to keep Grant Town in business while he was governor in West Virginia in 2006. He organized for lobbyists representing Mon Power, which buys energy from the plant to petition the West Virginia Public Service Commission. raise rates on residents.

The West Virginia senator has denied that his coal interests influence his policymaking and has declined to divest his holdings, saying that because his ownership is held in a blind trust, which gives a separate trustee control of holdings, it doesn’t violate congressional ethics rules or the law. However, the senator filed documents showing the blind trust. is too small to account for all his reported earnings from Enersystems, and, the PSC, under then-Governor Manchin, effectively saved the company’s contract by agreeing to raise rates in 2006.

Moreover, the coal company is far from Manchin’s only fossil fuel entanglement. The senator continues to be the top recipient among Congress members of campaign contributions from the fossil-fuel industry, collecting nearly $743,000In the current election cycle. In the Democrats’ narrowly controlled, 50-50 Senate, Manchin has gained almost total control over the future of the nation’s energy and climate policy amid the escalating planetary emergency and urgent need to achieve energy independence from Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.

In the time since Manchin killed Biden’s Build Back Better bill on Fox NewsIn December, he had sunk climate finance proponent Sarah Bloom Raskin’s nomination to become Federal Reserve’s vice chair of supervision, and called for using the Defense Production Act to not only greenlight the 25 coal plant-equivalentMountain Valley Pipeline through West Virginia, but also to expedite permitting fracked gas export terminals or leasing public lands for drilling at the Gulf of Mexico.

Manchin has also encouraged oil and gas executives to seek a “return on investment” from politicians who solicit what he called “mother’s milk,” or campaign donations. He even coachedOil and gas executives are ahead their testimony on rising gas prices Wednesdaybefore the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee of Oversight and Investigations.

West Virginia Rising organizers call Manchin’s actions some of the most flagrant and nakedly corrupt conflicts of interest in United States history. David Scott, a primary organizer of Saturday’s “Coal Baron Blockade” who lives in Fairmont, the seat of Marion County, where the Grant Town plant is located, tells Truthout that Manchin and his family have “fleeced” the state of West Virginia through their business ventures and obstruction of policies that would alleviate poverty in the state.

“Here he is, sitting on the chairmanship of the U.S. Senate Energy Committee — probably, aside from president of the United States, the most powerful position to be if you’re dealing with fossil fuels — and he’s treating that position like an ATM. He’s getting very wealthy from his own influence,” Scott says. “The people who live in the shadow of [Manchin’s Grant Town]A plant could use just a fraction [his profits]…. He’s living a lavish lifestyle while people in West Virginia are worried about how far away their children are going to go when they come of age.”

Scott points to the Manchin family’s long history of wrongdoing in the state: In addition to Manchin’s direct role in denying West Virginians the child tax creditAs well as federal benefits to disabled West Virginia coal miners; Senator Manchin’s uncle, Antonio James Manchin, resigned his position as state treasurer in 1989 after his impeachmentThe state House of Delegates was concerned about his mismanagement of investments, which resulted in the state losing $279 million in 1987.

Meanwhile, Senator Manchin’s daughter, Heather Bresch, stepped down as CEO of pharmaceutical giant Mylan amid a lawsuit over her role in helping fix and then gouge the price of epinephrine, the lifesaving medication used to make EpiPens. Bresch left with a $37.6 million exit package, helping shutter the company’s Morgantown, West Virginia, plant on her way out — taking more than 1,400 United Steelworkers jobs and a separate $30.8 million “golden parachute” payoutWith her.

She also lied about her credentials: Shortly after Bresch was named Mylan’s CEO in October 2007, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigation revealed that West Virginia University administrators had fabricated grades to help her meet the requirements to obtain a master’s degree in business administration. The investigation led to multiple resignations from the university’s senior leadership, who Manchin oversaw as governor at the time.

This history is why West Virginia organizers are putting their bodies on the line to demand Senator Manchin redress his family’s harms to the state by divesting his family’s fossil fuel and corporate conflicts of interest. Activists are asking Manchin to direct support West Virginia’s life-affirming and sustainable social spending as well as a rapid transition to clean electricity.

“Joe Manchin has spent his career making a very lucrative living off the backs of West Virginians while talking about how resilient we are. West Virginians have had enough of seeing others succeed. We deserve opportunities to build a future that our kids can be proud of,” said West Virginia Rising organizer Maria Gunnoe, who is descended from the Cherokee Nation and from West Virginia coal miners.

Organizers are also highlighting the plant’s direct harms to the surrounding community’s health: The Grant Town plant consumes at least 550,000 tonsEach year, the plant produces a very dirty form of coal waste. According to an analysis of dataThe federal Clean Air Task Force has found that its emissions are responsible for at least 18 deaths and 8 heart attacks, 2 hospitalizations and 169 asthma attacks. There are also 860 work-loss days each year.

The Grant Town plant isn’t even a good deal for ratepayers — something an executive from FirstEnergy Service Company, which contracts with the plant through its subsidiary, Mon Power, admittedAccording to West Virginia energy regulators, last year. Mon Power’s purchase agreement with the plant resulted in a $117.1 million loss from 2016 to 2021. Customers are paying the difference between higher costs of generating electricity at the plant and lower prices for that energy being sold to the marketplace. The deal expires in 2036.

Meanwhile, Senator Manchin has continued to generate personal revenue from the plant and has used his position as a swing vote in the Senate to kill the Build Back Better’s Clean Electricity Performance Program, which would have benefited ratepayers by encouraging utilities like Mon Power to transition to more efficient, clean energy.

Manchin recently indicated that he is open to the possibility of reopening talks on a smaller reconciliation package for party-line parties. This would use the budget process to bypass a Republican filibuster. His legislative framework would address the climate crisis using tax breaks to push up to $550 billion in clean energy technology subsidies while also rolling back Republicans’ 2017 tax cuts and reforming prescription drug pricing. His plan would see that half of the revenue would be used to reduce the federal deficit and inflation.

While Manchin hasn’t explicitly said he would hold climate provisions hostage to pro-fossil fuel policies, that remains a likely scenario as he continues to pressure the Biden administration to use the Defense Production Act to achieve his fossil fuel wish list. Some progressives are already warming to these demandsThey view it as the only way they can get at least some of the major domestic priorities done before next year’s midterm election.

West Virginia Rising’s Scott, who teaches fourth graders in Morgantown, remains skeptical of Manchin’s floated framework. “Manchin has made a career out of playing every side of the political spectrum,” he says. “He’ll call himself a Democrat when it’s convenient, and then he’ll take a shotgun and a TV ad and blow away another Democratic presidential proposal. He talks out of both sides of his mouth, and the proof is in the pudding.”

Tomorrow’s blockade comes on the heels of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) new reportMonday’s statement contained a dire warning that global greenhouse gases emissions must peak by 2025 to maintain planetary temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

The report demonstrates that the technologies and policies required to address the climate emergency are available. The only obstacles to mitigation are fossil fuel interests and political will. The report also saw the IPCC join the International Energy Agency in declaring that no new fossil fuel infrastructure should be built — a remarkable first in the IPCC’s 34-year history.

While the role of the fossil fuel industry is highlighted throughout the nearly 3,000-page-long report, it was conspicuously absent from the IPCC’s more high-profile “Summary for Policymakers.” An earlier draft of the summary leaked to the Guardian, however, described the fossil fuel industry and others as “vested interests” that have undermined climate policy. As The GuardianAccording to reports, Saudi Arabian representatives tried to weaken the language regarding stopping fossil fuel extraction. leaked reports.

West Virginia Rising’s Scott told Truthout that Senator Manchin is exactly the kind of “vested interest” erased from the IPCC report’s Summary for Policymakers. This week’s report, he says, underscores the need to engage in civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action to pressure power brokers at the intersection of politics and business.

“In Fairmont last year, and all over the eastern seaboard, we could see the smoke from the Pacific Northwest [wildfires]That was 2,000 miles away. The smoke was so thick that I had to break my asthma inhaler out,” Scott tells Truthout of the IPCC report’s recent warning about the escalating planetary crisis. “We watched the sun disappear in the sky hours before sunset, behind grey smoke.”

Saturday’s blockade will also culminate a week of action organized by the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign, which is hosting a 23-mile march in the state from Harpers Ferry to Martinsburg this week. Wednesday’s march reached Ranson, West Virginia to protest Rockwool International, a Danish-owned insulation plant. The toxic plantIt is located directly across the street from an elementary school, and within two miles of five additional schools and daycare centers.

Organizers with the Poor People’s Campaign plan to rally at Senator Manchin’s local office in Martinsburg early Saturday before supporting West Virginia Rising’s blockade in Grant Town that afternoon. On Sunday, Poor People’s Campaign national co-chairs, Bishop William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis will lead a Palm Sunday service just across the street from Grant Town’s coal plant. These West Virginia actions are just a few of the many that will lead to a massive low-wage workers march on Washington. June 18.

Stewart Acuff, a retired union organizer who lives in Jefferson County and works with West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign, told TruthoutResidents of Jefferson County spent four years trying to stop construction of the Rockwool plant. It is located in a low-wage community of color.

“Of course we understand environmental racism, we understand where they put these noxious, poisonous factories, and that’s where working families live. So we’re fighting to shut that down,” Acuff says. He also pointed out that Rockwool is among the few companies that have continued to operate. keep its Russian factories open amid Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

West Virginia Rising’s Scott and others participating in Saturday’s blockade say they want a just transition to green energy union jobs for coal miners as well as programs that would put people to work cleaning up mining waste across the state.

“There’s a misconception that people in West Virginia are sort of monolithically behind the fossil fuel industry,” Scott says. “There are a lot of people who are, but that is driven out of fear…. The people of West Virginia want hope.”