Suggesting that the appointment of federal regulators who acknowledge the threat of the climate crisis is a signal of inappropriate "partisan politics," U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Joe Manchin on Friday announced that he will not advance President Joe Biden's nominee to oversee land and minerals management at the Interior Department.
In an op-ed for The Houston Chronicle, the right-wing West Virginia Democrat wrote after months of speculation that he will not allow Laura Daniel-Davis' nomination for assistant secretary for lands and minerals management to proceed.
Manchin wrote that he particularly objected to a recently revealed internal memo from the Interior Department which showed Daniel-Davis—currently principal deputy assistant secretary for lands and mineral management—approved a decision to not lower federal fees for fossil fuel companies.
As The Hill reported last week, the Interior Department considered charging lower royalties for leased parcels to oil and gas companies when it sold leases in Alaska's Cook Inlet. In theinternal memo, which was mistakenly made public on the department's website, Amanda Lefton, then-director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, claimed that cutting fees would "incentivize additional blocks receiving bids, increase bonus bids, and increase the chances of a discovery being developed."
"Nevertheless, because of the serious challenges facing the nation from climate change and the impact of [greenhouse gases] from fossil fuels, the bureau is not recommending this option since it would not include an appropriate surcharge to account for those impacts," Lefton added, in a decision that secured Daniel-Davis' signoff.
As he weighed Daniel-Davis' nomination last week—months after she was first nominated by Biden—Manchin expressed concern about the memo, saying he opposed the confirmation of anyone he believes has put "their radical climate agenda ahead of the needs of the people of Alaska and the United States."
"With this position vacant, critical clean energy and conservation funds will not reach the communities that need them most."
On Friday, he confirmed in the Chronicle his opposition to Daniel-Davis over what he called her "misguided reasoning" for maintaining higher royalties for fossil fuel companies.
"Even though I supported her in the past," he wrote, "I cannot, in good conscience, support her or anyone else who will play partisan politics and agree with this misguided and dangerous manipulation of the law."
Manchin backed Daniel-Davis in previous committee votes on her nomination last year.
The senator went as far as suggesting Daniel-Davis demonstrated insufficient loyalty to the U.S. when she approved the fees for oil and gas companies, writing on Friday, "Going forward, each and every proposed nominee I will review will be judged through one prism: Are they political partisans first or Americans first?"
On Wednesday, he also denounced officials in the Biden administration for "putting their radical climate agenda ahead of our nation's energy security."
Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, called Manchin's decision "baffling, hypocritical, and short-sighted," noting that Manchin confirmed many of former Republican President Donald Trump's nominees "by saying that he 'always understood the importance of an executive being able to assemble a team of people they trust.'"
"It appears that standard no longer applies," said Rokala.
The group particularly took issue with Manchin's suggestion that "shaping policy based on the threat posed by climate change makes someone a 'political partisan,'" even as polls show more than half of Republican voters back policies to confront the climate crisis.
"Climate policy is not a partisan issue. Climate change doesn't care whether you're a Republican, Democrat, or Independent," said Rokala. "Voters across the political spectrum worry about the threats posed by drought, wildfire, heatwaves, rising seas, and other climate disasters. But it's clear today that Joe Manchin's real constituents are the oil and gas executives at [global energy conference] CERAWeek, not the American people."
The Sierra Club noted that without an assistant secretary for lands and minerals management, "critical clean energy and conservation funds will not reach the communities that need them most."
Manchin's rejection of Daniel-Davis marks just his latest decision obstructing the climate agenda of his own party. Last month he signaled plans to revive a "dirty deal" to accelerate fossil fuel permitting and joined Republicans in pushing a proposal that would bar the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission from banning methane-powered gas stoves in the interest of protecting public health and safety.
The senator's latest financial disclosure forms show that he earned nearly $500,000 from his family's coal business and that his share of the company is worth between $1 million and $5 million. The fossil fuel industry donated more money to Manchin than any other lawmaker during the last election cycle.
Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society, said Friday that Manchin's rejection of climate action led him to block a nominee who "is imminently qualified for this role and deserved a fair process."
"We regret that [Daniel-Davis'] exceptional bona fides were not enough to shield her from the politics that seem to have infected the process," said Williams.