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'Worst Possible Choice': Pressure Mounts on Schumer to Keep Pro-Coal Joe Manchin From Powerful Energy Post

"I have concerns because I don't think we should be financed by the industries that we are supposed to be legislating and regulating."

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) is likely to serve as Ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. (Photo: Third Way Think Tank/Flickr/cc)

While pressuring Democratic leaders to form a new congressional committee with a mandate to pass a Green New Deal, climate action groups and progressives lawmakers including Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are also raising deep concerns over the corporate-friendly Democrat who's expected to serve as the party's top member on the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee—a gift to the fossil fuel industry which has long buttressed his political career.

As ranking member of the committee, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) would be in the position to reject nominees for positions in the Interior and Energy Departments and stop the panel from approving attempts to waive environmental laws concerning logging as well as energy industries—a responsibility Ocasio-Cortez says Manchin is unlikely to fulfill given his ties to Big Coal.

"Senator Joe Manchin is the worst possible choice to lead Senate Democrats' work on energy policy. Do not allow a senator in the pocket of the coal industry to serve as the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources." —CREDO Action"I have concerns because I don't think we should be financed by the industries that we are supposed to be legislating and regulating," Ocasio-Cortez told The Hill.

CREDO Action echoed the sentiment, circulating a petition signed by more than 65,000 people and reading, "Senator Joe Manchin is the worst possible choice to lead Senate Democrats' work on energy policy. Do not allow a senator in the pocket of the coal industry to serve as the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources."

Manchin received $35,000 from coal companies in 2018, while the oil and gas sector contributed more than $156,000 to his campaign. While a majority of Americans—even in states that had booming coal businesses in past decades—believe the country needs to invest in renewable energy, Manchin has joined President Donald Trump in stubbornly defending the coal industry.  

Washington's Democratic governor, Jay Inslee, has started a petition to pressure Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to give the ranking member position to another Democrat. Inslee fought for a ballot initiative that would have created the country's first carbon tax in his state, while Manchin was one of four Democrats who voted to prohibit a federal tax on carbon emissions in 2015.

Manchin "simply can't be trusted to make the bold, progressive decisions we need," the governor's petition read.

"The fundamental thing I'm saying is the fate of the planet right now has got to trump any seniority system of the U.S. Senate," Inslee told The Hill.

"Joe Manchin could not be further out of step with his colleagues on the climate crisis, and shouldn't be anywhere near leadership that determines our energy policy," added Julian Brave NoiseCat, policy analyst for 350.org. "As someone who took over a million dollars in fossil fuel industry donations, he's the textbook example of a bought-and-paid-for politician—we might as well give a coal executive that promotion."

At the home of Schumer in New York City on Monday, a local Indivisible chapter joined with the Sunrise Movement to demand that Schumer choose someone else to further progressive interests on the Energy Committee.

"[Schumer]'s the minority leader. If he made it a priority to recruit someone better to fill this role, we think he could figure it out!" Liat Olenick, president of Indivisible BK told the Daily Beast.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) also pressured Schumer to take action that is well within his rights as the Senate's most powerful Democrat, to keep the pro-industry Manchin out of the ranking position.

"The first thing is, Joe Manchin is categorically unacceptable as ranking member and the second thing is that Chuck Schumer can fix this," Lukas Ross, senior policy analyst at FOE, told The Hill. "This is truly a question of moral courage and leadership—it is within his power to waive the seniority rules."

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