Energy and the New Congress: What to Expect Through 2020
By T.L. Headley, American Coal Council
Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), serves as the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. An increasingly rare voice on Capitol Hill – a centrist, pro-energy Democrat — he has a unique perspective on the current situation in Congress.
While Manchin is the senior senator from a small state, his voice is amplified substantially by his moderate, swing-vote position in an increasingly partisan Congress. It’s now also a divided Congress, with the House majority shifting to the Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections.
Since he was first elected to the Senate in 2010, Manchin has used this position to gain influence on both sides of the aisle – with a particular emphasis on coal and energy-related issues. The American Coal Council recently interviewed Manchin for his perspective on those issues and the new Congress.
“When I was elected to the U.S. Senate, I wanted to be sure I was in a position to continue advocating for our miners and the critically important energy resource they provide our country,” Manchin said. “I have served on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The committee has jurisdiction over national energy policy and has provided a platform for me as we talk about our ever-evolving energy markets. In January, after nine years on the committee, I took over as ranking member, a role that will amplify my ability to take on issues important to both West Virginia and our nation as a whole.”
Manchin said the solutions to the nation’s energy issues will not be found in a “Green New Deal” but instead through a “meaningful and pragmatic approach” to addressing needs and concerns by pursuing new technologies that allow us to “continue to rely on coal for our energy needs while burning coal in cleaner, more efficient ways.”
Manchin mentioned that Dr. Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency Committee testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in February about the role carbon capture utilization and sequestration (CCUS) can play in the coming decades.
“He asserted that because the U.S. and other developing countries will continue to burn coal for years to come, the ambitious climate goals identified by groups on the political left cannot be reached without significant investment in CCUS technologies,” Manchin said.
Despite the partisanship on Capitol Hill, Manchin remains hopeful that Congress will be able to pass a bipartisan energy plan. “We’re going to try to do a realistic energy package,” he said. “We want a basic set of facts we can all agree on.” He said it is in both parties’ best interest to pass an energy package.
Though a strong supporter of coal and fossil fuels, Manchin also believes climate change is real and must be addressed.
“Climate change is real,” he said. “But if you think you are going to address it by eliminating sources of energy, it isn’t realistic or pragmatic. Accelerating the development of CCUS is the quickest way to decarbonize. We are going to be relying on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. And that’s not coming from me. It is just a question of practicality. Most of Asia is building coal-fired power plants and they are going to use those plants until they wear out – and they have average lifespans of 40 years. Economics and common sense tell us that. Don’t you think?”
Manchin isn’t a fan of the Green New Deal being floated in Congress by the extreme left of the Democratic party, and he said he would advise the party’s potential presidential candidates to consult their own experts – people like former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.
“You don’t have a deal,” Manchin said. “All you have is a resolution and a concept that is a bunch of dreams. I can’t afford that type of approach. I have to deal with the reality. As I said, we need a realistic, pragmatic approach. Coal and other fossil fuels are the most affordable and reliable energy source. There might be an energy of the future out there that will produce the power we need, but I know what we‘ve got in front of us and what we are going to be using for a long time to come. So, I’d tell our candidates frankly, I don’t see how [you’re for that] when there’s nothing there.”
Manchin said Moniz, who served as Energy Secretary under former President Barack Obama, and Andy Karsner, who was Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in the George W. Bush administration, recently released an article with their ideas for a “Green Real Deal” that would emphasize innovation and flexibility to address reduction of CO2.
The two currently collaborate on the Roosevelt Project at MIT. “I would tell them [Democratic Party leadership] to talk to Moniz and Karsner and the professionals you have respect for,” Manchin said. “They just did an article on the green real deal — not the Green New Deal. Read that article. It is reasonable, responsible and practical.”
The Moniz/Karsner “Green Real Deal” would include:
- Increased energy efficiency across all economic sectors, a very low-carbon electricity system and the electrification of buildings, transportation and industry.
- Increased use of solar and wind energy and natural gas.
- Development of advanced nuclear technologies and the capture, storage and use of carbon dioxide.
- Full accommodation of regional differences in climate solutions.
Manchin believes it is vital that any program or bill “strikes a balance between the environment and the economy.” He referred back to the previous administration’s Clean Power Plan and said it failed to achieve that balance.
“It would have required coal-fired plants to use technology that was not commercially available,” he said. He emphasized that it is imperative that we pursue the R&D needed if decarbonization is a priority because we will be using fossil fuels for years to come. “That’s why as ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, I am prioritizing investment in advanced fossil energy technologies at our labs, the Department of Energy, as well as finding ways to ensure productive partnerships with private sector partners.”
Striking that balance is just as important in the short term. Manchin said it’s vital that we preserve the remainder of our nation’s coal-fired power generation fleet. He pointed to the recent resurgence of the polar vortex, which brought bone-chilling temperatures, heavy snow and winds to much of the United States in February.
“We know the positive impact coal-fired power has on our economy, job creation and securing the reliability of our electric grid,” Manchin said. “During extreme weather events like the 2014 Polar Vortex, and more recently during the 2018 Bomb Cyclone, coal was called upon to keep the lights on and homes heated. I have always been a vocal advocate of an all-of-the-above energy portfolio, and it is important to acknowledge that coal and other fossil fuels will continue to be a vital part of our energy portfolio here at home and around the world.”
Manchin referred to the Energy Reliability Act of 2018, which he introduced and sponsored. The bill would “help reverse some of the damage the Obama administration did to the industry – saving and creating jobs in the process. It will give coal-fired power plants a tax credit to ensure that these plants can continue to provide the resilient and reliable electric generation that our country relies on.”2 He said: “It [the bill] is still out there and passing it would be a great first step.”
The senator also highlighted the need for America to economically incentivize the world to use cleaner energy and create a workforce that manufactures the next generation of energy technology.
“We can export American-made technology to global markets that both increase efficiency and reduce the cost of capturing carbon. Instead of relying on other countries to adopt our energy policies, let’s lead the revolution of bringing clean energy technology to the market,” Manchin said. Doing so, he said, would allow us to reduce CO2 while continuing to produce and utilize our most abundant natural resource and expanding our markets internationally.