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We have heard over and over how Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., occupies a strategically powerful position. The 50-50 tie in the U.S. Senate means President Joe Biden and the Democrats need every vote, plus a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris, to move their agenda.

Manchin also holds a key to what the Biden administration’s climate policy will include, since he is chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Just how significant is that seat? Nobel Prize-winning economist and liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman described it this way:

“The best-case scenario is that Manchin will intervene in ways that help coal miners and highlight his independence without doing too much damage to Biden’s objectives. The worst-case scenario is that he will cripple the climate initiative and effectively doom the planet — because the president’s climate push is almost certainly our last chance to avoid disaster.”

Doom the planet? We know Manchin is powerful, but it is a bit of a stretch to suggest that the fate of all humanity depends on Joe Manchin.

Krugman also dismisses the significance of coal to West Virginia’s economy, writing that “the coal mining industry employed only around 13,000 workers, less than 2% of the state’s workforce.”

Coal employment has been in steep decline, but just citing the number of miners fails to account for all those who work in primary and secondary industries that support the coal industry. Additionally, coal remains a significant revenue generator.

The West Virginia Department of Revenue estimates that, when all the taxes generated through coal — property, severance, income, employee, B&O tax on power generation, worker employment-related taxes — the state collects about $600 million a year.

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Krugman also goes on and on about the “proud history” of coal mining in West Virginia and his concern for coal miners. It’s always rich when one opines about their devotion to coal miners while, in the same breath, espousing policies that will put them out of work.

No one in West Virginia has blinders on anymore. Coal is never going to be what it was, not even close. But coal remains an inexpensive and reliable baseload fuel that is integral to energy security here and around the world.

In recent weeks, Europe, which relies more on renewables, had to dramatically increase its reliance on carbon-based fuels — natural gas and coal — after the wind slowed in the North Atlantic.

Meanwhile, China continues unabated mining, burning coal and generating more greenhouse gasses than any other country. This week, President Xi Jinping pledged to stop building and financing coal-fired power plants in other countries, but he made no such promise domestically,

“Last year, China built more than three times more new coal power capacity than all other countries in the world combined, equal to more than one large coal plant per week,” The New York Times reported.

I doubt the fate of the planet, because of climate change, rests with any one individual. However, if it does, that responsibility lies more with the Chinese president than with the West Virginia senator.

Hoppy Kercheval hosts “Talkline,” on MetroNews.

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