Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) was confronted by hunger striking activists earlier this week over his ties to the fossil fuel industry and for refusing to back potentially transformative climate change legislation.
President Joe Biden is heading to Glasgow, Scotland on Sunday for COP26, a crucial U.N. climate summit. By the time he visits the conference, he looks to pass the U.S.’ most ambitious climate legislation ever, including $555 billion in financial incentives aimed at boosting renewable energy, as well as a tax break that will deliver up to $12,500 to people who buy an electric car.
The bill will also help fund climate adaptation measures to natural disasters such as wildfires, and employ 300,000 people in a new “civilian climate corps.” The new measures are part of a $3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill.
But two centrist Democrats, Manchin, who represents coal-rich West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), have opposed parts of Biden’s legislation and refused to vote for it in the Senate to make it enshrined in law. Both senators are opposed to the $3.5 trillion figure and Manchin also objects to a provision in the plan that would direct $150 billion towards eliminating fossil fuels.
Manchin, a powerful Democrat who chairs the Senate energy committee, has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. He has stock valued between $1 million and $5 million in Enersystems Inc., a coal brokerage firm which he founded in 1988. He earned nearly half a million dollars in dividends in 2020 from Enersystems, according to his Senate financial disclosure report.
On Tuesday, Manchin was approached by 20-year-old activist Abby Leedy, after the senator addressed the Economic Club of D.C.
Leedy, who is in a wheelchair, asks Manchin: “Does the fossil fuel industry have anything to do with you blocking vital climate legislation right now?”
“No honey, we’re working on climate,” Manchin replies.
Leedy says: “I’m going to grow up in a catastrophic climate emergency if you continue to block the Civilian Climate Corps. The methane emissions…”
Manchin interrupts her, saying “Can I talk?” before asking Leedy her name.
He adds: “Abby, let me tell you, the United States has done more than any other country. All the [carbon] emissions are coming from Asia.”
Although China is the country with the highest emissions in the world, the United States is the second biggest polluter.
Leedy says in the video: “Joe Manchin, if the United States of America does not cut our emissions by at least 50 percent, I am going to grow up in a non-stop climate emergency.
“I’ve been on hunger strike for seven days Joe,” she adds. Leedy is part of a group of five young activists who have been on a hunger strike outside the White House since October 20. They are striking until Biden keeps to his promises regarding addressing climate change.
Leedy adds: “Joe Manchin, millions of people have been calling your office, we have been trying to reach you for months and months because you are standing against everything I need to have a livable future.
“I have dreams, young people here have dreams. And if the United States and if we don’t pass—the United States doesn’t pass—massive climate action this fall it is too late. This is one of our last chances.”
Manchin then tells Leedy to come to his office and have a meeting, but another activist out of shot hits back, saying that her and other activists have been unable to get a meeting with the lawmaker.
Manchin walks off and Leedy says: “I want to live. I want to live! Young people want to live.”
Newsweek has approached the hunger strikers for comment, as well as Manchin’s office.
The White House has said the climate legislation will cut carbon emissions by 1 billion tons by 2030, bringing the U.S. closer to its goal of halving emissions this decade.
However, the bill has been significantly reduced in scope due to objections by Manchin and Sinema, and Biden needs every Senate Democrat on-side for the bill to pass.