West Virginia Democrat and “mouthpiece for the coal industry” Joe Manchin is trying to undo a new rule that would limit the use of U.S. tax dollars to finance dirty coal plants around the world. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is currently weighing whether or not to allow Manchin to attach his pro-coal amendment to existing legislation.
It all has to do with a federal bank you’ve probably never heard of, the Export-Import Bank. The Export-Import Bank provides financing for U.S. businesses operating internationally, and up until now has been a huge funder of fossil fuel development around the globe. Under President Obama, the bank has financed more than $27 billion in international fossil fuel projects, compared with less than $2 billion in clean energy projects. So it was a big step forward when the White House announced plans last year to drastically restrict the bank’s support for coal plants abroad.
But now senators with deep ties to coal mining, led by Manchin, want to block the new rule from taking effect, and they’re threatening to hold up the bank’s reauthorization in Congress if they don’t get their way. If they succeed, it would send the wrong signal to the entire financial sector, undermine the president’s leverage to push other nations to adopt similar policies on coal finance, and have devastating impacts for local communities slated for development.
It’s no surprise that senators in the pocket of Big Coal like Joe Manchin would try and block this modest and urgently-needed policy. Manchin is one of the top recipients of coal industry money in Congress today, and has a history of deep personal ties to coal companies: environmentalists in West Virginia report that Manchin has “been nothing but a mouthpiece for the coal industry his whole public life.”1
But it’s a disappointment to see the Democratic Senate leadership consider bowing to Manchin’s demands. Harry Reid has criticized Republicans for “denying reality” on climate change, and has said he won’t allow the GOP to hold this year’s interim budget hostage over Republican opposition to EPA action on carbon pollution. But it’s not enough for Reid to talk tough with his political opponents if he’s willing to entertain concessions to the fossil fuel industry to please members of his own party.
Right now, Senator Reid is leading negotiations over whether to allow Manchin’s pro-coal amendment into the final bill. We have a limited window to make sure Reid knows we’ll hold him accountable for whether our tax dollars are used to fuel climate change.
Pushing public banks to scale back funding for coal is critical to Rainforest Action Network’s long-term goal of preventing the financial sector overall from bankrolling climate chaos. That’s why we can’t let a minority of coal loyalists undo the gains we’ve worked to achieve together. With a constantly shrinking amount of time left to stabilize atmospheric carbon and avert the worst impacts of climate change, we need Senator Reid to stand tall and uphold this long-overdue policy.
P.S. For more on this issue, check out my op-ed in The Hill, the influential Capitol Hill newspaper: “Will Harry Reid Undermine Obama’s Climate Legacy?”
1. “Sen. Manchin Maintains Lucrative Ties to Family-Owned Coal Company”, New York Times, July 26, 2011.