Working Class Hero Joe Manchin MIGHT Not Be Entirely On The Up And Up!

State/Local Politics
Working Class Hero Joe Manchin MIGHT Not Be Entirely On The Up And Up!

Whenever President Senate Majority Leader Lord Emperor Joe Manchin kills a key part of the Democratic agenda, he insists he’s acting on behalf of his West Virginia constituents, and that’s certainly true if we define “constituents” as a single West Virginia power plant.

The New York Times ran an in-depth feature about the Grant Town power plant and its close relationship to Manchin’s personal finances. Writers Christopher Flavelle and Julie Tate do their best Steinbeck here:

Mr. Manchin’s ties to the Grant Town plant date to 1987, when he had just been elected to the West Virginia Senate, a part-time job with base pay of $6,500. His family’s carpet business was struggling.

Opportunity arrived in the form of two developers who wanted to build a power plant in Grant Town, just outside Mr. Manchin’s district. Mr. Manchin, whose grandfather went to work in the mines at age 9 and whose uncle died in a mining accident, helped the developers clear bureaucratic hurdles.

Then he did something beyond routine constituent services. He went into business with the Grant Town power plant.

Manchin supplied the company with “gob” — an acronym for “garbage of bituminous," a type of low-grade coal mixed with rock and clay. Mining companies typically toss this junk but it can also produce electricity when burned. This probably isn’t the cleanest of energy or business arrangements. Manchin received a cut of the revenue from the the electricity the plant generated, and the funds came from the electric bills his constituents paid. This all made Manchin a very rich man.


The Times claims in classic Times fashion that "the fact that Mr. Manchin owns a coal business is well-known ... ,” but we disagree.

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Manchin has served as an effective advocate for his major constituent, the Grant Town plant, which the Environmental Protection Agency feared was "too close to an existing coal-burning plant, resulting in excessive levels of sulfur dioxide, a threat to human health and plant life."

According to the Times, Manchin "urged a state official to approve [the plant’s] 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.”

That last one’s a gut punch. West Virginia is the second-poorest US state, with a $48,850 median household income and a poverty rate of 17.54 percent. Manchin made it harder for them to keep their lights on.

Records show that several energy companies have held ownership stakes in the power plant, major corporations with interests far beyond West Virginia. At various points, those corporations have sought to influence the Senate, including legislation before committees on which Mr. Manchin sat, creating what ethics experts describe as a conflict of interest.

As senator, Manchin has blocked climate legislation that might keep the planet from catching fire. He insists he’s acting in the best interests of West Virginia, which is the second largest producer of coal. He’s also joined Republicans in exploiting the Russian invasion of Ukraine to promote more US gas and oil production. He most recently tanked Sarah Bloom Raskin's nomination to the Federal Reserve because she dared suggest the Fed consider the risks that climate change poses to banks, insurance companies, and other financial institutions.

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“Gob” is a less efficient power source than coal, and over the years, that’s cost West Virginians hundreds of millions of dollars in excess electricity fees. Manchin has supported legislation that protected coal plants from federal regulation of coal ash, which gob-fired plants produce in higher volumes. It’s just repulsive.

The Times seems confident there’s no evidence Manchin has broken any laws. Senate rules prohibit members from using their position to pass legislation whose "principal purpose” is to benefit themselves or family members. They won’t let you sponsor "The Free Money For Senators Named Joe Bill,” but otherwise, it’s OK for Manchin to advance or block legislation that personally impacts him.

Sadly, this will somehow get even worse when a sentient lump of coal running as a Republican defeats Manchin in 2024.

[New York Times]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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