The Senate committee with primary jurisdiction for U.S. energy policy added Joe Manchin, the former West Virginia governor who won office after using climate-change legislation for target practice in a 2010 ad.
Manchin will join the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, according to an e-mail yesterday from Bill Wicker, a committee spokesman. The panel, led by Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, plans to draft legislation that sets guidelines for how much electricity comes from sources such as coal, natural gas, wind and sun.
West Virginia is the second-biggest coal-producing state after Wyoming, according to Energy Department data. In his commercial, Manchin loads a rifle and fires a single bullet into a copy of the cap-and-trade bill backed by President Barack Obama that would penalize utilities for using coal.
“Manchin getting a seat on the energy committee is just an indication of the role that coal will play in the energy debate in the coming months,” said Tyson Slocum, energy director of the Washington-based advocacy group Public Citizen. “Coal is going to have its say in all of this.”
Democrats will have 12 members on the panel compared with 10 Republicans, down from a 13-10 advantage before the party lost seats on Nov. 2. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, often joins Republicans on issues that affect oil and gas producers, said Michael McKenna, a Republican oil-industry lobbyist and president of MWR Strategies Inc. in Washington.
“It's not just a matter that the votes are going to be more difficult for Senator Bingaman, everything is going to be more difficult,” McKenna said in an interview. “The addition of Manchin is going to complicate the regular, routine running of the committee.”
West Virginia produced 137 million tons of coal in 2009, and Wyoming mined 431 million tons, according to the Energy Department.
“Manchin’s been extremely protective of the coal industry because of its obvious economic impact to his state,” Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association in Washington, said in an interview.
Two Democrats, Al Franken of Minnesota and Christopher Coons of Delaware, also are joining the committee.
The Energy Committee may consider legislation this year that would establish national targets for using renewable sources to generate electricity. In his State of the Union address on Jan. 25, Obama said the U.S. should produce 80 percent of its power from clean sources by 2035 and that nuclear energy, clean coal, and natural gas can complement solar and wind power to meet the target.
“I will fight for a commonsense, balanced energy approach that recognizes West Virginia’s critical role in our nation’s economy now and into the future,” Manchin said yesterday in a statement. “Every state must do its part to use its resources - - whether it’s clean coal and natural gas or wind and solar -- to make energy independence a reality.”
McKenna said Manchin’s apppointment is part of the Democrat’s strategy for the 2012 election.
“He’s a great guy but West Virginia is a Republican state,” McKenna said. “The Democrats only hope for holding it is for Manchin to have multiple opportunities to vote against the president.”