Sen. Joe Manchin, D.-W.Va., kicked off the U.S. Energy Association's May 23 annual meeting in Washington, D.C., with a speech.
The top-ranking Democrat of the United States Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has heralded an alternative to the Green New Deal as a realistic approach but warned political tribalism and language differences are holding back the fight against climate change.
Speaking at a May 23 forum hosted by the U.S. Energy Association in Washington, D.C., U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., praised Ernest Moniz' and Andrew Karsner's Green Real Deal as a pragmatic alternative to his party's Green New Deal nonbinding resolution. The Green New Deal calls for the U.S. to derive all its electricity from renewable and nonemitting sources within 10 years and achieve "net-zero" greenhouse gas emissions.
The Green Real Deal was outlined in a March Op-Ed for CNBC by Energy Futures Initiative founder Moniz, who served as U.S. Energy Secretary under the Obama administration, and EEF associate, Karsner, who served as Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in the George W. Bush administration.
Along with Manchin, Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has also been receptive of Moniz and Karsner's proposal.
"The Green New Deal is aspirational; the Green Real Deal is real," said Manchin, ranking member of the committee. For Manchin, the Green Real Deal's proposal to "use everything we have" to cut greenhouse gas emissions, including nuclear and carbon capture, utilization and sequestration technologies, is "something we can do, something we have to do."
Much in line with the Green Real Deal's focus on innovation and low-carbon resources, Manchin said he favors technology innovation instead of forcibly eliminating energy resources to cut emissions. Serious decarbonization efforts require preserving and expanding America's fleet of nuclear reactors, he added, as well as developing carbon capture, utilization and sequestration technologies that can be used by fossil fuel-fired generators.
To that end, Manchin introduced the Enhancing Fossil Fuel Energy Carbon Technology Act of 2019 that seeks to direct the U.S. Department of Energy to create new research and development programs focused on coal and natural gas technology as well as the fledgling technologies of carbon capture, utilization and storage.
"If you think you're going to eliminate fossil fuels anytime soon in the world, you're mistaken," Manchin cautioned climate activists. While less carbon-emitting natural gas-fired combined-cycle power plants are replacing dirtier, aging coal-fired power plants in the U.S., he noted that the average age of coal plants in Asia is just over a decade old. More importantly, coal is expected to continue to supply more than half of Asia's growing electricity needs by 2050, he said.
Manchin also noted that India is undergoing a rapid nationwide electrification campaign similar to what took place in the U.S. during the 1930s under Franklin D. Roosevelt. "You think [Indians] care what comes out at the smokestack when they can turn the light switch on now, have a refrigerator for the first time? I don't think so," he pondered.
Manchin said that Asia's growing need for electricity gives U.S. industry and academia the chance to work together in public-private partnerships to develop carbon capture technologies and commercially deploy them. "If we don't hit the moonshot on carbon capture utilization, well, shame on us," said Manchin.
For those reasons, Manchin said carbon capture supporters, like himself, want to extend 45Q tax credits available to carbon capture and storage projects beyond their 2024 expiration. He said committee members are also looking at potential direct air capture technologies.
Manchin also pointed to a cultural divide on communicating climate change.
"Now in rural America, when you talk about climate ... they talk a different language," said Manchin. As an example, he said, rural Americans might respond with a climate skeptic retort that climates have always been changing. He recommended policymakers and activists focus on getting everyone to agree that science shows humans in the 20th century "have had more of an impact [on the world's climate] than ever in the history of the world." Then, he said, "you can get them to start understanding."
Coming from a coal-mining state, Manchin said you can also get rural Americans to understand climate change once they know that "we have all been responsible" for both contributing to both our modern standards of living and for contributing to climate change.
Meanwhile, Manchin warned that a zero-sum game of political "tribalism" is holding back the passage of energy bills in Congress, especially when committees get turned over to the opposing party following elections. Working out differences and finding a solution "doesn't happen here anymore," he said. "It's become tribal — which side are you on? And once it becomes tribal, that means I better win and you better lose. It doesn't matter, at all, how good an idea you have."