BLUEFIELD, W.Va, — If Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wants to move forward in a bipartisan manner in a fractured Senate, one of his first challenges is to find common ground in the issue of climate change and renewable energy.
President Joe Biden already issued an executive order to put a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands, an order that has Manchin's colleague and fellow West Virginian, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., on the attack.
"This is an economic, energy, and national security disaster in my view,” Moore said. “This order moves America from energy independence back to relying on foreign sources for fuel. And a lot of times these are the countries who have much laxer environmental policies than we have right here in the United States.”
She said the order reminds her of the Obama Administration’s environmental regulations that hurt the fossil fuel industry, including coal jobs in West Virginia.
But Capito, who is ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Manchin, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, see some common ground.
Manchin said in an interview with CNHI West Virginia newspapers that he spoke to the White House about Biden’s directive to the Interior Department to halt new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and waters.
Capito said she wants to be “part of the solution.”
“I am not a climate denier,” she said. “We all need to take care of our planet. We must be good stewards of our earth and water. We know it’s the right thing to do…We can address climate change together though innovation and technology. We already have new markets for coal – carbon products. We know investing in carbon capture utilization and storage is critical for a lot of reasons. It’s a win-win on both sides. We know new technologies are progressing every day.”
Manchin wants any climate policies to also bring jobs to West Virginia and other states to replace those that have been and will be lost as a result of the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
“I am hoping there is no one in West Virginia that still denies that climate changes are real and humans have had tremendous impact on Mother Earth,” he said. “So we have a responsibility.”
But Manchin said that transition to renewable energy will be market-driven.
“The market will eliminate fossil if there is another dependable, reliable and affordable energy,” he said. “The market will not eliminate fossil – whether it be coal, natural gas or oil – unless that happens.”
Renewable energy will not provide that alternative anytime soon, he said.
“We have lost 50 percent of our load as far as demand on coal,” he said, referring to power plants and the drop of dependency on coal from about 40 percent 10 years ago to 20 percent, much of it now going to natural gas.
“The market changed,” he said, referring to natural gas as well as wind and solar, which are now more competitive and more cost-effective.
But one of the main problems with renewables now, though, is a lack of a “baseload,” he said, referring to the ability to store energy and release it when needed. That is crucial to maintain a stable, reliable power grid.
World demand for fossil fuels is also a factor.
“You are going to have to have fossil,” he said. “As you look around the world today there is more fossil use today as countries are coming into more of a developed status.”
He added: “The markets change when the consumers want it to change.”