The Clean Electricity Performance Program is key to reducing America's emissions. Manchin, who benefits financially from coal, opposes it.
Within the $3.5 trillion spending bill that Democrats are desperately trying to pass is a little talked about but essential proposal. The Clean Electricity Performance Program and its $150 billion budget makes up just 4% of the bill’s total spending but could help create the fastest and most radical shift in the ongoing fight to curb greenhouse gas emissions. It also happens to be the 4% that Joe Manchin, the Democratic-ish senator from West Virginia and the elusive 50th vote needed to pass the spending bill, wants to cut the most.
Real quick: The Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP) would create an incentive structure for utility companies that power the energy grids across the country. Companies that increase the amount of electricity they produce from clean energy sources like wind and solar by at least 4% each year would get paid a handsome bonus. Companies that fail to meet that benchmark get charged for their dirty production.
Through this very simple system, the United States could reduce its carbon emissions from the electrical grid by as much as 80% by 2035 via CEPP. It would accelerate the transition that is already occurring, as nearly 40% of electricity generation already comes from non-emitting energy sources (that includes about 20% from nuclear plants). It would also create an estimated 7 million new jobs in the energy sector — a much-needed boost for an industry that is hemorrhaging workers as outdated grids and fossil fuel sources fail us. CEPP would also vastly out-produce its $150 billion price tag, as it is expected to generate about $1 trillion in value for the economy, according to estimates from the Analysis Group.
So what exactly is Manchin’s beef here? What could he possibly find objectionable about this policy that will not only create tons of new jobs but also generate an incredible amount of value and help save the planet from burning up?
Well, if you ask him, we just don’t really need it. According to The New York Times, a spokesperson for Manchin said that the senator can’t support “using taxpayer dollars to pay private companies to do things they’re already doing.” Never mind the fact that the shift is happening too slowly to actually stave off the worst effects of climate change, which we’re already starting to see happen. Manchin should know this better than anyone: The state he represents, West Virginia, is projected to be exposed to more flood damage than any other state in the country. And yet Manchin is insistent on being the “This is fine” dog.
A better explanation for Manchin’s insistence that we kill off one of our best chances at kicking our fossil fuel habit is that he profits from it, politically and personally. West Virginia is the second-largest producer of coal in the country, and the industry accounts for nearly 15,000 jobs in the state — though that is less than 2% of the state’s 755,000-person and growing workforce, and has been declining for decades. Still, coal is a big deal for West Virginia, and for Manchin, too. According to a report from The Intercept, Manchin has managed to rake in about $4.5 million from coal companies that he founded just since joining the Senate in 2010. Stock in those companies is where much of his wealth comes from, in fact. And those companies benefit his family, too, as he handed over control of them to his son in the early 2000s.
CEPP should be a relatively uncontroversial program that, if implemented, would produce great benefit to the country and to the planet. But it wouldn’t produce much benefit to Joe Manchin. That’s likely the reason that he’s making such a fuss about it — and he should have to explain why killing millions of new jobs, producing tons of economic value, and lessening the impact of climate change, all of which would benefit his constituents, is acceptable.