On April 9, hundreds of local community members and activists set up a blockade at the gate of the Grant Town Power Plant in West Virginia to protest the plant’s pollution and Senator Joe Manchin’s profits from that pollution. The plant, situated in rural northern West Virginia, is one of the most polluting coal power plants in the state. Joe Manchin’s coal company Enersystems — now run by his son — sells waste coal, called gob, to the plant. In the last year alone, this brought him $492,000 in profits through his holdings in Enersystems, which are valued at between $1-$5 million.
Protesters, some of whom were arrested, demanded justice from Manchin, an end to his profiting from the coal industry and called for progressive climate legislation.
Deanna Thomas, a lifelong Grant Town resident who lives two miles away from the power station, spoke to Liberation News about the extreme pollution of the Grant Town Power Plant. She explained how the burning of gob coal, sold to the plant by Manchin’s company, releases even more toxins than traditional coal plants because of the impurities in gob. Due to burning gob, the plant releases more sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide per unit of energy than any other plant in the state.
Thomas spoke about the many struggles she has faced over the last decade with environmental toxins and her own family’s health. “My father and uncle worked the mines when I was a kid. My father did two tours in Vietnam, and he would come home every day from the mines and say, ‘This is worse than ‘Nam.’”
She described two different occasions where she was forced to evacuate her home due to the spillage of toxic water because of the plant.
Concerning Joe Manchin, Thomas said, “I’m ashamed to say I previously believed in him and voted for him.”
Another local present at the blockade said through tear-filled eyes, “What kind of world are we leaving for our children? Our grandchildren? We need green energy, and we don’t have much time left.”
Joe Manchin — corrupt, greedy and selling out West Virginians again and again
Manchin has been the Chairman of the Senate Committee of Energy and Natural Resources since his election to the Senate in 2010. While Manchin doesn’t directly own coal mines or power plants, he founded the coal brokerage company Enersystems in 1988 which sells dirty gob to its only customer over the last twenty years: Grant Town Power Plant.
In 2006, when Joe Manchin was the governor, the privately-owned power plant sought a rate increase, which was approved by Manchin, then the appointed head of the West Virginia Public Service Commission. The rate increase both greatly enlarged the profits of the plant and raised energy costs for West Virginians: since 2016, the Grant Power station has cost West Virginia, the third poorest state in the U.S., $117 million dollars in increased fees.
The Grant Town Power Plant is the only power plant in the entire state of West Virginia that still burns dirty gob coal. This dirty coal has brought Joe Manchin an estimated $5 million dollars since 2010, with another $5 million in stock. The nearly $500,000 he made from Grant Town Power Plant in 2021 was more than double his Senate salary.
Manchin’s corruption extends beyond just his callous disregard for the health of working people and the Earth. He was also one of the key stumbling blocks that gutted the Build Back Better program.
The speakers at the blockade all touched on Manchin’s betrayal of West Virginians when he continually blocked a program that would have kept the much-needed $250-$300 Child Tax Credit. One speaker laid this charge at Joe Manchin’s feet: “Not supporting the Child Tax Credit because ‘people would spend it on drugs’ — that is disdain for our people, that is a condemnation of our people!“ Twenty percent of the children in West Virginia live under the poverty line, and an estimated additional 50,000 have slipped back under the poverty line without the Child Tax Credit and the Build Back Better program.
Rylee Haught, president of Un-PAC WVU (a pro-democracy and anti-corruption organization), also had a message for Manchin:
“You should be ashamed to face your constituents, who are rationing their insulin to keep their lights on! You should be ashamed to face your constituents, who have lost their jobs in the coal mines with no alternative in sight! You should be ashamed to face your constituents with black lung disease that cannot afford their hospital bills! You should be ashamed to face your constituents, who constantly go under boil water advisories because of C8 [toxic “forever chemicals” that never break down in the human body] in our water! You should be ashamed to face your constituents that only have a dying, dirty coal plant to sustain their entire community!”
Rev. William Barber with the Poor People’s Campaign also spoke in front of Grant Town Power Plant.
“It’s time to come together! It’s time to stand together! It’s time to fight for this democracy! It’s time! Everybody in! Nobody out! Everybody has a right to live! Together we win! Together we’re strong! Together we have power!”