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Life after Manchin

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Nov 9, 2023
Sen. Joe Manchin

Manchin in September. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Joe Manchin's announcement that he won't seek another term could change the course of energy policy on the Hill.

Why it matters: Manchin has wielded the Energy and Natural Resources gavel with immense legislative impact, but his successor could take Democrats in a decidedly different direction.

Driving the news: "I have accomplished what I set out to do for West Virginia," Manchin said in a statement this afternoon.

  • "But what I will be doing is traveling the country and speaking out to see if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together," he said.
  • We'll let you guess what that means (presidential run, anyone?), but it's a huge blow to Democrats who will now be without one of the last people who could keep a West Virginia Senate seat in their column.

Between the lines: Martin Heinrich will be the immediate favorite to take the top Democratic spot on ENR (if he wins his own reelection fight next year).

  • Those ahead of him in line — Ron Wyden, Maria Cantwell and Bernie Sanders — currently hold other chairs.
  • Wyden and Cantwell have also both had a term leading Democrats on ENR.
  • Heinrich (or virtually any other Democrat) would be a more progressive voice on climate and energy issues.
  • Heinrich's one of the Senate's leading voices on transmission policy, and he's broadly aligned with environmental groups on oil and gas issues.

Yes, but: There will be plenty of shuffling before that's finalized.

  • The top spot on the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee is also up for grabs after the death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
  • Heinrich told Axios this week he's "very interested" in that role, depending on how other chairs move around and what options are before him.
  • Another New Mexican — Republican Pete Domenici — chaired both ENR and the energy and water panel two decades ago.
  • Heinrich currently leads the Ag subcommittee on Approps. And Democrats generally avoid giving one senator too many high-profile committee posts at once.

Flashback: Manchin's ascension on ENR was controversial with progressives.

  • But he used the top spot to enact a series of major laws that have sent big money to his home state and created a new paradigm for U.S. energy policy.

As ranking member, he worked with then-Chair Lisa Murkowski on the Energy Act of 2020, which laid groundwork for many of programs that got huge funding via the bipartisan infrastructure law.

  • And, of course, he's the architect of the IRA — the biggest tranche of climate funding ever enacted by Congress.

The bottom line: Love him or hate him, Manchin is a hugely important figure in shaping how this country will move through the energy transition.

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