Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spent the days leading up to Labor Day weekend making appearances throughout the Greenbrier Valley. Their trip was highlighted by a stop in Lewisburg to announce new funding for a water project and a round-table session with area leaders at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine’s Clingman Center, before delivering remarks as part of the West Virginia Chamber Business Summit at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs.
After thanking Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., the members of the West Virginia Legislature, and Gov. Jim Justice’s administration for setting politics aside when it comes to “what’s good for West Virginia,” Manchin offered praise to both Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay.
Manchin told those gathered in The Greenbrier resort’s Colonial Hall ballroom that he has never worked with two such individuals representing the state legislature who have had nothing but the best interest of the state in mind.
According to Manchin, it is the bipartisan cooperation among lawmakers which makes West Virginia an attractive location for out-of-state business investors.
“I think when they (businesses) see the collaboration and they see there are no political barriers that have been put up, it makes all the difference in the world,” Manchin noted. “I think when all that happens, good things happen.”
After touting several federal accomplishments designed to make the United States more energy-independent – including reducing the auto industry’s requested $7,500 tax credit by 50 percent – Manchin turned his focus toward the work being done in the Greenbrier Valley.
“Tom (Secretary Vilsack) and I announced the largest investment in clean water projects in West Virginia,” Manchin said. “That’s going to be over $90 million. When you look at Greenbrier County and Lewisburg – Lewisburg basically cannot grow anymore. Greenbrier County is basically not being able to grow because they don’t have enough water.
“They cannot provide the water,” Manchin noted. “And they’ve been losing a lot of businesses because the water has not been able to grow with the economy. This changes it – quadruples the opportunity they’re going to have in the water production.”
Manchin then spoke briefly about West Virginia’s Hydrogen Hub Coalition. According to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources – which Manchin chairs – the coalition has been assembled to “collaborate and support a strong West Virginia candidate to be chosen to develop a hydrogen hub, funded through $9.5 billion allocated to the U.S. Department of Energy.”
“I will make a prediction – we are going to have a hydrogen hub in West Virginia because we are sitting on an ocean of energy,” Manchin said. “It means everything from the standpoint of opportunities.”
Manchin then explained how the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), of which he was the principal architect, “came about.”
“From a political standpoint, they said, ‘Joe, why would you do it?’” Manchin began, first referencing 2021’s failed Build Back Better plan (BBB). “Well, I didn’t look at it from a political standpoint – I looked at the opportunity.”
“I was villainized for killing the BBB by many people on the left,” Manchin continued. “I didn’t kill the BBB because I thought it would help Republicans or hurt Democrats – I couldn’t support it because I felt it was bad for America. The policies were not good for our country.”
Manchin explained how after the BBB stalled in December of 2021, in combination with the rise of land wars in Europe, and the destructive actions taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the severity of the global energy crisis has been exacerbated.
“Putin has basically weaponized energy,” Manchin said. “The only thing I know is when your adversary has a weapon, you better have one better and bigger – and we do. We have the resources to become energy independent, and we have the resources to help our allies. And if we don’t, God help us.”
“That was the driving force [behind the IRA] – energy security,” Manchin noted, before adding that an April conversation with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., motivated him to draft the bill. “Without energy security we would not be able to maintain the superpower status that we have.”
Before relinquishing the podium to Vilsack, Manchin told those in attendance: “We can make things happen, but we’ve got to think positive. We’ve allowed politics to be used as a weapon against us. You’re not divided – Washington is divided. We’re making you pick sides. What side are you on – the ‘D’ side or the ‘R’ side?”
“There is only one side,” Manchin concluded. “The American side. If the moderate Republicans and the moderate Democrats don’t take back this country, God help us all. If the extreme left and the extreme right keeps doing what they’re doing and driving us further apart, you won’t have a country that you will even recognize. That’s what scares the bejeezus out of me.”
When Vilsack stepped to the podium, he began his remarks by complimenting his “good friend,” Manchin, telling the audience, “He’s a fierce advocate for your state.”
“I made the mistake early in the Obama administration of giving the senator my cell number,” Vilsack continued. “He uses it frequently, and he uses it almost exclusively for his state (West Virginia). He’s interested and excited about opportunities, and he wants to take full advantage of what the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) can offer.”
“He [Manchin] has a deep understanding of the challenges we face as a nation,” Vilsack added. “He knows that we’ve gone through a very serious period of disruption because of the pandemic. He also knows full well that when you have those serious disruptions, it is up to us to do what each preceding generation of Americans have been engaged and involved in during times of disruption – to emerge from this better, smarter, faster and build a stronger and more perfect America.”
Vilsack then shifted his comments specifically to rural America, saying, “It needs continued investment. It’s not only 20 percent of our population, it’s also 72 percent of the land mass of the United States of America.”
“When you think of your food, when you think of your water, when you think of the electricity and the power that we use to light our homes or to fire up our computers every day, almost all of it comes from rural places,” Vilsack noted. “So it’s important for us to invest in rural places.”
According to Vilsack, the funding for the Greenbrier County water project is a representation of that investment.
“This is the largest single investment in infrastructure since Dwight Eisenhower stayed here in the 1950s and basically built the interstate highway system,” Vilsack added. “And it has that kind of profound impact and opportunity.”
Groundbreaking for the Greenbrier County water project is expected to occur before Oct. 1.