When President Joe Biden convenes a virtual climate summit on Thursday, he will bring together 40 world leaders and unveil a target for the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that he hopes will serve as an example to the world.
But just as he must calibrate the impact of emissions on global warming, in making his calculations, he must also find a way of balancing the demands within his own party between climate change activists and blue-collar voters who worry about their jobs while Republicans in Trump country see an opening for attack.
Although protecting the planet’s health is vital, Randy Johnson, a Democratic strategist and fourth-generation West Virginian, said so, too, is protecting the health of communities hit by reductions in fossil fuel use.
“Here’s the reality of … as Joe Manchin says … my little state, my home of West Virginia: When the coal mine closes, the grocery store closes, the gas station closes — and, eventually, even the Walmart leaves,” he said. “What we have been left with in many communities in my state is a decimation of the community economically that has then been replaced by some of the worst parts of the opioid epidemic that this country has seen.”
The issue is sensitive in West Virginia, which claims to be the sixth-largest producer of energy in the country. And Manchin, chairman of the Senate energy committee, has already signaled he will not be a pushover on liberal climate policy on this issue.
Just ask Hillary Clinton. In 2016, she tried to explain how turning away from fossil fuels in places similar to West Virginia in favor of green technology could protect jobs in the state, but this came undone when the exchange was remembered for a partial sound bite, in which she said, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”