Arrests at WVa protest denouncing Manchin coal industry ties

GRANT TOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Grassroots groups blocking the entrance to a West Virginia power plant denounced Sen. Joe Manchin’s ties to the coal industry, and several arrests were made.

Dozens of protesters rallied Saturday outside the front gate of the coal-fired Grant Town Power Plant, news outlets reported.

The protest called on Manchin to abandon his support for fossil fuels and support green energy legislation. The West Virginia Democrat wields considerable influence over energy policy as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Demonstrators also urged Manchin to support legislation to lift up families living in poverty. The protest also focused on Manchin’s family business, which sells waste coal to the power plant about 90 miles (about 145 kilometers) south of Pittsburgh.

Sam Runyon, a spokeswoman for Manchin, said in an email Sunday that the senator “has always supported the right of every West Virginian to peacefully protest as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

Among the speakers Saturday were the Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the grassroots Poor People’s Campaign, which has held several rallies over the past year in West Virginia to call on Manchin to support issues such as higher wages, better voting protections and the now-expired expanded child tax credit.

In February, Manchin declared that President Joe Biden’s roughly $2 trillion Build Back Better social and environment bill is “dead.” While Manchin expressed support for the original bill’s provisions bolstering renewable energy, he said he also wants to “use all the fossil industry in the cleanest, absolute possible versions that you can.”

The measure had already passed the House. Democrats need Manchin’s vote to prevail in the 50-50 Senate, where every Republican opposes the legislation but Vice President Kamala Harris can vote to break ties.

Barber and others spoke in front of a sign attached to the plant’s gate that read “Manchin: Stop Burning WV’s Future For Profit.”

“Instead of passing legislation and standing with those things that would help the climate and protect our water, he has blocked those things,” Barber said. “At every turn, he has chosen the money and chosen greed and chosen a kind of political meanness. When you block health care, people die. When you mess up the climate, people die.”

West Virginia is the nation’s second-largest coal producer, behind Wyoming, and accounted for 5% of the nation’s total energy production in 2019, ranking fifth among the states, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But West Virginia has lost thousands of coal jobs in the past decade as companies and utilities explore using other energy sources such as natural gas, solar and wind.

State police and sheriff’s deputies led several protesters away in handcuffs, but it wasn’t immediately known how many arrests were made or what charges those activists faced.

WV Rising, a Morgantown-based group that organized the protest, said 16 people were arrested. Capt. R.A. Maddy, a state police spokesman, said Sunday he had no information on the arrests. A dispatcher at the Marion County sheriff’s office referred questions Sunday to the sheriff, who was unavailable.

Rylee Haught, a protester from Morgantown, said she showed up to the demonstration because “I know the effects that coal has and it’s not positive anymore. It’s a dying industry. It’s hurting West Virginia. It’s hurting all of America and the rest of the world at this point with global warming increasing rapidly.”

Haught also said Manchin’s family business represents “a huge conflict of interest and it absolutely should not be allowed to happen.”