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Lucy has taken the football home

Coal baron opposes climate action, shocking Washington insiders and no one else


The big “news” is that the coal baron Sen. Joseph Anthony Manchin III (D-W.V.) chose Bastille Day 2022 as the day to publicly oppose a reconciliation deal that includes any climate or clean-energy incentives, finally forcing climate lobbyists to admit defeat, 251 days after the moment they definitively lost. I guess he got tired of pulling away the football.

In September, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) warned that Build Back Better, President Joe Biden’s signature climate-justice initiative, would die if it was unlinked from a business-as-usual, corporate-lobbyist-friendly infrastructure bill also under consideration.

She was right.

In November, the Biden White House withdrew its support for keeping the bills together and the Congressional Progressive Caucus—except for the Squad—folded to ExxonMobil lobbyists, allowing the infrastructure package to pass without Build Back Better.

In December 2021, Manchin went on Fox News and said he could not vote for Build Back Better. The Squad was not surprised. As Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) responded:

“We have been saying this for weeks that this would happen. Having them coupled together was the only leverage we had. And what did the caucus do? We tossed it.

Beltway climate advocates—a tight network of White House officials, Congressional climate hawks, and advocacy groups—have wasted this year (and their impressive-for-the-climate-movement budgets) insisting that some version of Build Back Better’s climate components would pass, while Manchin cheerfully fed them tar-sands sandwiches, time and again.

As I wrote on the ides of March:

I’m sincerely hoping that the advocates who are paid quite well to convince the U.S. Congress to enact strong climate policy now adjust their strategy away from “make a deal with Manchin,” because it ain’t gonna happen.

Sadly, the climate groups didn’t listen, wasting another four months by coddling Manchin in the vain hope of some kind of woefully inadequate deal.

Democrats who favor strong action on climate change are deeply dissatisfied with what they see as the slow pace of progress under President Joe Biden, according to a Pew Research Center report released Thursday. . . . 73 percent of those aged 18 to 29 said the Biden administration could be doing more on climate change.

As have the policy consequences. The fossil-friendly Rhodium Group projects that “the nation is projected to drastically undershoot its goal of reducing emissions 50 and 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, part of its commitment to other countries as a member of the 2015 Paris Agreement.”

I get it—most of the foundations and ultra-rich Democrats that finance these organizations only are interested in certain kinds of campaigning, favoring polite deal-making over ideological confrontation. At the end of the day, too many of them prefer the current make-up of the Democratic Party coalition—with the populist green left moderated by corporatists—to a Democratic Party capable of achieving its popular mandate.1 And so any strategy built on recognizing the obvious, that Manchin is a cowardly, bullying, fossil-funded coal baron who represents the interests of billionaires and has contempt for everyone else, was off the table.

It was true in April and is true now: the only reasonable course of action now for advocates is to stop chasing phantoms, denounce the Maserati-driving coal millionaire polluting the Democratic caucus, and fight for more climate champions.

It would be great if the Biden White House, now standing alone as the only branch of government not definitively run by the fossil-fuel industry, now took aggressive, emergency climate action, as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is suggesting. Though that would require more chutzpah than Whitehouse—who dares not say a bad word about Senate Energy Committee Chair Manchin—himself has.

The climate coalition working to shut down the corporate lovefest that is the Congressional Baseball Game has the right idea. It’s time for the fun and games to end.

Now for some real news.

On Tuesday, the D.C. city council passed a suite of landmark climate legislation, with one bill banning natural-gas hookups in all new construction and requiring net-zero building codes by 2026, and another bill “committing to making the entire city carbon neutral by 2045.”

In “As alarm over plastic grows, Saudis ramp up production in the U.S,” Mark Schapiro describes the firing up of the Saudi-Exxon petroplastic plant in December 2021:

Thus did the Saudi royal family mark the expansion of its far-flung petrochemical empire to San Patricio County, Texas, a once-rural stretch of flatlands across Nueces Bay from Corpus Christi. It arrived in the form of Gulf Coast Growth Ventures, or GCGV, a plant that sprawls over 16 acres between the towns of Portland and Gregory. The complex contains a circuit board of pipes and steel tanks that cough out steam, flames, and toxic substances as it creates the building blocks for plastic from natural gas liquids.

The plant is the first joint venture in the Americas between Saudi Basic Industries Corp., or SABIC, a chemical manufacturing giant tied to one of the world’s richest royal families, and Exxon Mobil, America’s biggest energy company.

The Saudi-Exxon GCGV plant in Texas. Credit: Julie Dermansky

Los Angeles Times photojournalist Luis Sinco—pushed not by his editors but by his own sense of dire urgency—traveled the full 1500 miles of the Colorado River during breaks in assignments over two years to document its hastening anthropogenic decline. Presented with Sinco’s fait accompli, Times editors have put together an impressive presentation of his journey, a visual saga of the mundane, profane, and the sublime. Depending on the choices we make together, Sinco’s work will stand either as a prophetic warning or an apt epitaph for the American experiment.

Hearings on the Hill:

Today’s last word comes from Luis Sinco:

We are reaching feedback loops with the climate, where problems just feed on themselves. We need to start paying attention, and we need to start making real sacrifices.

Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word. DMs are open@climatebrad

1 Conservative funders have no such aversion to enforcing ideological purity within the Republican Party through confrontational politics. Of course, right-wing billionaires have it easy—the collapse of a pluralist secular democracy through figuratively and literally scorched-earth politics is their goal.

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