Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) will be the new top Democrat on the chamber’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the party announced Tuesday, despite opposition from some environmental groups troubled by the lawmaker’s fondness for coal.
The move comes as Democrats are working to counter President Donald Trump’s aggressive efforts to eviscerate environmental legislation while touting fossil fuel production, which he did even at the United Nations’ annual climate change talks this month in Poland.
In a statement, Manchin said he was “excited for the opportunity” and vowed to work with those on both sides of the aisle. The committee, currently chaired by Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, deals with much of the nation’s energy policy and use of federal lands.
“This Committee has a long history of bipartisanship that has helped propel our nation’s energy technology forward,” Manchin said in a statement. “West Virginia is a leading energy producer and major contributor to advanced energy technologies, and I intend to ensure this progress is continued.”
He continued: “The problems facing our country are serious, and I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find common-sense solutions for long-term comprehensive energy policy that incorporates an all-of-the-above strategy and ensures our state and our nation are leaders in the energy future.”
News of Manchin’s potential appointment stoked some controversy as several prominent Democrats said the lawmaker, who represents a state that’s the center of the coal industry, was too fond of fossil fuels at a time when urgent action is needed to rein in greenhouse gas emissions to tackle climate change. Other names had been floated, but current ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) is moving to the Senate Commerce Committee, and three other senior members said they’d prefer to lead other committees.
Manchin helped allay some fears last week after he voted against Bernard McNamee, an energy lawyer nominated to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, citing the man’s denial of climate change.
Some critics, however, expressed disappointment with the pick on Tuesday, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who is believed to be mulling a presidential bid in 2020.
“It is justifiably disappointing to hear that Senator Joe Manchin has been chosen to lead Senate Democrats on the Energy Committee, someone who literally shot the last bold climate legislation put forward by our party in a campaign ad and who has shown little resistance to Donald Trump’s dirty coal agenda,” Inslee said in a statement, referring to a 2010 ad in which Manchin literally shot at a greenhouse gas bill with a rifle. “Senator Manchin is a leader on many issues we care about as Democrats, including health care and gun safety. Climate change, unfortunately, is not one of them.”