I moved to the hills of West Virginia when I was 3 years old.
During the formative years of my life, I lived carefree, playing, learning and experiencing mountain life, on the homestead my father and his brother helped my grandparents build.
Freedom felt like mud all over my body, slimy frogs in my hands and fresh air blowing on my skin. Happiness sounded like spring peepers singing as the sun went down, with a chorus of bugs humming along.
My heart is in West Virginia because my grandparents showed me the magic of fresh air, clear starry night skies, clean water, pristine grown food and lively biodiversity. Later, I discovered wanderlust, traveling to many different places. Yet, daydreams of migrating birds, the nighttime flutter of Luna moths and the taste of wild blueberries stayed with me. Eventually, I returned to the state that’s truly my home.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., grew up in these glorious mountains, too, in the small coal-mining town of Farmington. Just like me, he was raised to value family and hard work. He talks proudly of the influence of his grandmother, Mama Kay, who inspired him to serve and taught him about compassion and helping those less fortunate.
Such altruistic values are vital. As Manchin has carved out his West Virginia success story, working hard to serve in our congressional delegation and founding a successful coal brokerage business, other West Virginians are struggling.
Coal has given much to the world but, unfortunately, working this land, rich with biodiversity and resources, has also resulted in dirty water; contaminated soil; lack of investment in education; physically, emotionally and mentally sick workers; addiction aggravated by hard labor, injury and uncertain times.
My family didn’t come from coal, but we have lived among it. As our abundant resources go somewhere else entirely, the extractive practices are harming West Virginians. On top of that, a warming climate, exacerbated by heat-trapping carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels, is harming animals and ecosystems in our beautiful state.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as temperatures continue to rise, heavy rainstorms are becoming more frequent in West Virginia, and the intensity of floods is likely to increase. Our state is more exposed to worsening floods than anywhere else in the country, meaning our residents will suffer disproportionately, if we do not slow global warming.
The latest international climate report states that emissions are still rising, but we have cheap energy solutions to save the planet from climate change, if we can just put politics aside to do the right thing.
Manchin’s recent efforts to initiate climate talks with congressional colleagues on both sides of the aisle are admirable. At the same time, we should not squander the opportunity to get significant policies passed through budget reconciliation. Climate legislation must be attempted from every angle and passed via the quickest route possible.
Any policy needs to meet the U.S. emissions reduction pledge, and increasingly a price on carbon is being touted as an essential solution. Indeed, the American Petroleum Institute, the country’s largest trade association for the oil and gas industry, has drafted a proposal urging Congress to adopt a carbon fee with rebates for Americans.
Providing Americans with a monthly “carbon cashback” check, raised via a “price on pollution,” would help households weather inflation. It also would remedy volatile gas prices affected by global energy markets and petrostate autocrats. We can steer the economy toward cheap, clean, domestic energy.
Adding a carbon border adjustment mechanism — a policy gaining traction in his bipartisan meetings on energy legislation — would ensure other countries who want to trade with us reduce their emissions, or pay. It also would keep U.S. businesses competitive in a greener, global market.
It’s estimated that today’s children will live through triple the amount of climate disasters their grandparents did, if drastic action is not taken to curb emissions.
I’m glad Manchin was raised to value compassion. He is in a complex position — caught between his family coal business and the future of his constituents — but I believe he will come good for the most vulnerable in his care.
His actions can safeguard the future of a whole new generation. May they grow up with a stable climate, carefree and wild, basking in West Virginia’s abundant natural beauty.