Joe Manchin Dismissed Concerns About Natural Gas Bans. Now He Wants Credit for Stopping Them.

West Virginia Democrat in 2021 opposed a measure aimed at banning natural gas in buildings

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.V.) REUTERS / Leah Millis
July 18, 2023

With a difficult reelection year approaching, West Virginia's Sen. Joe Manchin is touting a measure he introduced to block gas stove bans. In 2021, the Senate Democrat opposed a similar measure, arguing that he didn't think natural gas bans "would happen."

Manchin in a Thursday video said he was "proud to announce" his work to secure "many West Virginia priorities," including one measure he advanced to "prohibit" the Biden administration from "banning gas stoves." Just two years ago, however, Manchin opposed an amendment from Wyoming Republican senator John Barrasso that would have prohibited federal funds from being used to ban "the direct use of natural gas in residential and commercial buildings for space heating, water heating, cooking, or other purposes." For Manchin, the measure was not necessary.

"I would be as concerned as Senator Barrasso if I thought that would happen," Manchin said during a July 2021 Senate Energy Committee meeting. "I don't see that happening." Other Democrats disagreed. New Mexico Democratic senator Martin Heinrich, for example, opposed Barrasso's measure not because he thought natural gas bans were unrealistic, but rather because a move away from natural gas and toward "electrification" would bring "energy savings."

This is not the first time Manchin has changed his tune on energy policy as he approaches a reelection year in a state former president Donald Trump carried easily in both 2016 and 2020. Manchin in May attacked the Biden administration for failing to spur offshore oil and gas development—roughly one year after he shot down a measure from Louisiana GOP senator John N. Kennedy that would have required the administration to conduct more offshore oil and gas lease sales.

Manchin, whose office did not return a request for comment, is yet to announce his political future. The West Virginian has flirted with a third-party presidential bid, an endeavor that his Senate Democratic colleagues are scrambling to stop. Those colleagues would prefer Manchin run for reelection next year, but that campaign is expected to be a difficult one for Manchin, who could face off against popular Republican governor Jim Justice should he seek a third Senate term. Forty-three percent of likely general election voters back Justice, compared with just 29 percent who back Manchin, according to a National Journal poll released last month.

Those numbers could explain why Manchin is signaling he may pursue a third-party "unity ticket" run despite objections from Senate Democrats. Manchin teased that run during a Monday event with self-described centrist group No Labels. "I'm here trying to basically save the nation," Manchin said. "I'm more concerned now than I've ever been concerned in my lifetime."

Regardless of whether Manchin chooses to run for Senate, president, or another office, the Democrat has worked in recent months to position himself as a critic of President Joe Biden's spending. That criticism, however, is centered on Biden's trillion-dollar Inflation Reduction Act, which Manchin himself named and orchestrated.

During an April Fox News appearance, for example, Manchin attacked Biden for working to "liberalize" the massive climate spending bill, which includes rebates to change from a gas stove to an electric one. Just two months prior, Manchin—who is considered the Inflation Reduction Act's "chief architect"—heaped praise on the bill and said he did not regret voting for it "at all."

"The Inflation Reduction Act will be the most transformative bill that we've ever had in the United States, in Congress, as far as I've been here," Manchin said in February.

In addition to the bill's incentives to ditch gas stoves for their electric counterparts, the Biden administration has moved forward with plans to restrict gas stove sales following Manchin's 2021 comments. Biden's Energy Department has defended its rule to "confront the global climate crisis" by imposing energy conservation standards on cooking appliances. Those standards would effectively ban the sale of half of all gas stoves on the U.S. market, according to an Energy Department analysis. Some industry leaders, however, think that figure is much larger, given that the Energy Department in December found 96 percent of gas stove models it tested failed to meet the rule's proposed efficiency standards.

Manchin has taken liberal positions in the past, only to swear off those positions as Election Day approaches. In July 2017, the Democrat said he was "not for" building a wall on the Mexican border "at all." One year later, when Republicans ran ads highlighting those comments, Manchin called it a "flat-out lie" that he opposed the wall.