CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Sen. Joe Manchin said he doesn’t pay attention to criticism or campaign donations when making decisions about what’s best for West Virginia.
Sounding somewhat exasperated when asked if the dramatic increase in campaign contributions he received from oil and gas interests in recent months swayed his vote, the conservative Democrat said no.
During a roundtable discussion in Charleston on Friday, he said his office’s outsized role in drafting of the extensive economic package signed this week by US President Joe Biden made it the target of “extreme left” environmental activists and the fossil fuel industry at the same time.
“No one in their right mind would go through what I’ve gone through with my staff for the last eight months, taking all the garbage that we’ve taken from everyone in the country” if they weren’t doing what they think is right, he said. she said.
“I can be the hero and the villain in a 24-hour shift,” he said. “The bottom line is that I don’t make excuses for what I think is right. I’ve always said this: If I can explain that, I can vote. I can accept criticism that I know goes with those votes. That’s part of the game.”
Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, delivered a key vote needed to pass Senate Democrats’ flagship health and climate bill 50-50. The House used a 220-207 party line to vote pass legislationthan Biden signed on Tuesday.
The law, which caps prescription drug prices for seniors and extends subsidies meant to help Americans pay for health insurance, contains billions in incentives for clean energy. Due in large part to Manchin’s influence, it also offers renewed support for traditional fuel sources such as coal and natural gas, with measures such as subsidies for technology that reduces carbon emissions.
“I wasn’t sure they would ever agree because my friends on the far left, the environmental community, were totally committed to dispersal and basically getting rid of the fossils,” Manchin said of the law.
But Manchin said “there is no way to get rid of fossils in a short period of time.”
“You can use it more cleanly while basically transitioning, but it will be with us, and you have to do the best you can with it,” he said. “So, I wanted to make sure they understood it.”
On the other hand, he said he has been “criticized by all my friends in the coal industry” because they think the bill doesn’t go far enough to protect their interests.
“(They) for some reason think this is going to be disruptive,” said Manchin, whose family owns Enersystems, a coal brokerage firm. “I think it’s basically a way forward so that we can continue to produce industry, providing the energy that our country needs.”
Under a deal with Democratic leadership, Manchin proposed a separate bill of legislation to speed up federal permitting and make energy projects harder to block under federal law. He also specifically called for federal agencies to “take all necessary steps” to expedite the completion of the Mountain Valley pipeline, a project long opposed by environmental activists.
The 303-mile (487-kilometer) pipeline, now nearly complete, would transport natural gas extracted from the Appalachian Basin through West Virginia and Virginia. Legal battles have delayed completion by almost four years and doubled the cost of the pipeline, which is now estimated at $6.6 billion.
This election cycle, Manchin has received more campaign contributions from pipeline companies than any other member of the US Congress, contributions that have risen from $20,000 in 2020 to $331,910 in 2022, according to campaign finance records compiled by Open secrets.
On Friday, he said his agenda in advocating for the pipeline was to lower the cost to consumers by increasing the size of the market and creating jobs. He insisted that campaign money had nothing to do with it.
“I understand the cynical part of that. People look at it and say, ‘Well, they’re just looking out for themselves,'” he said. “Sorry folks, I have no idea who’s contributing. I don’t watch that, I don’t go out and defend that at all.”
He said lawmakers must “overcome” pressure from corporations and parties to deliver on their constituents.
“Politics has become a very, very nasty and destructive kind of process…both sides are guilty of putting together the good of America for the good of the party, both sides, and it’s just not right for our country,” said.