The remarks came from Keith McCoy, Exxon’s senior director of federal relations in Washington.
“Joe Manchin ― I talk to his office every week. He is the kingmaker, and he’s not shy about staking his claim early and completely changing the debate,” McCoy said.
On Wednesday, Channel 4 News in Britain published video of McCoy’s remarks, captured by Unearthed, Greenpeace UK’s investigative arm. Unearthed staffers posed as headhunters looking to hire a lobbyist for one of their clients.
It’s not surprising that McCoy identified Manchin as the key to their efforts. He’s chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and will be central to any climate change measures that get pushed through during President Joe Biden’s administration.
Moreover, with the slimmest of majorities in the Senate, the White House and other Democrats have had to bend over backward to keep Manchin ― who is more conservative than many other members of his caucus ― happy and on board.
Since the 2012 election cycle, Manchin has received $12,500 from Exxon’s political action committee.
It’s not clear whether McCoy was being entirely upfront about his access to the senator’s office or whether he was exaggerating in hopes of scoring a new client. Manchin’s office declined to comment for this article.
HuffPost reached out to about a dozen environmental organizations, including ones in the senator’s home state, to see whether they get the same sort of access. The picture was mixed. Some said they talked to Manchin’s office frequently and felt like the senator was incredibly accessible. But other groups said they had nowhere near the ability to talk to the office that Exxon purportedly has.
Perry Bryant, founder of the coalition West Virginia Climate Alliance, said the senator and his staff were “very accessible,” citing a 40-minute Zoom meeting with Manchin this spring and a series of meetings with members of his committee and personal staff.
Manchin also received high marks from Leah Barbor, the West Virginia field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force ― who said her parent advocates “speak regularly” to the senator and his staff ― as well as national groups including the League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Defense Fund.
“They have an open-door policy and are receptive to discussing a wide range of issues,” said Elizabeth Gore, EDF’s senior vice president for political affairs.
Jim Probst, state coordinator for the West Virginia Citizens Climate Lobby, said that they have a “pretty good relationship with Manchin’s office and email frequently with staff,” but he would “make the distinction though between access and influence.”
On the other hand, the Sierra Club of West Virginia, Greenpeace USA, 350.org, the Sunrise Movement and the Center for Biological Diversity all said they did not speak with Manchin’s office regularly.
“We frequently write and call Manchin’s offices, but we at MOVCA and Sierra Club WV don’t have that kind of routine access to Manchin or his staff,” said Eric Engle, who is co-chairman of the Sierra Club of West Virginia executive committee and chairman of the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action (MOVCA).
“We do not speak to Manchin’s office every week. This is bullshit. Especially as there are unprecedented and fatal heat waves across the country, it’s outrageous that our politicians are working with the very people responsible for the extreme weather instead of looking out for the American people,” said Sunrise Communications Director Ellen Sciales.
The senator is currently one of the leaders on a bipartisan infrastructure package that largely leaves out major climate change measures, including just a fraction, for instance, of the funding Biden has requested to help boost electric vehicles.
Sciales said the Exxon revelations should make the White House think twice about the deference it shows to Manchin.
“Biden, the senators you’re negotiating with are clearly beholden to fossil fuels. Is this why you reached a compromise on infrastructure?” she said. “Is this why you’re watering down your climate plan? Whose side are you on?”