Schumer and Manchin’s ‘dirty sideshow’ to speed up pipelines faces backlash | US Senate

Scientists, health experts and environmental groups have condemned new legislation secretly negotiated by fossil fuel-friendly Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Senate leader Chuck Schumer that will accelerate major energy projects by scrapping clean water and environmental protections.

The permit bill, released Wednesday, was the result of a deal between Manchin and Democratic leaders that caused the West Virginia senator to vote for Joe Biden’s landmark climate legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act, which held up Manchin for months.

The bill requires all permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), a project long delayed by environmental violations and court rulings, to be issued within 30 days of approval, eliminating virtually all room for judicial review.

Democratic leaders want to push through Manchin’s bill without debate or analysis, and are expected to tie the legislation with a funding measure that Congress must approve before Oct. 1.

Energy sector associations have widely welcomed the reforms, but opposition from Democrats and Republicans could thwart the deal.

Critics say the bill is a giveaway for the fossil fuel lobby, paving the way for oil and gas production, preventing the US from meeting its commitments to reduce greenhouse gases and leading to further environmental injustices for people of color, indigenous communities and low incomes. areas. It cuts off judicial and state powers and oversight, giving Washington greater control over major projects.

“This does not allow for reform,” said Greenpeace USA co-executive director Ebony Twilley Martin. “This enables a giveaway that benefits those who continue to line their pockets at the expense of those affected by climate disasters. Our country cannot afford new oil, gas or coal projects if we want to avoid a climate catastrophe.”

On Thursday, more than 400 scientists, doctors and nurses delivered a letter pleading with Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to reject the deal. “The scientific consensus is now crystal clear…fossil fuel projects pose huge risks to public health…we need to leave oil, gas and coal in the ground and turn off the rebate of carbon flowing into the air.”

Jennifer K Falcon, an indigenous environmental activist with the Ikiya Collective, said: “Our communities have already lost so much to environmental racism, but there is still so much to save. [They] are not sacrificial zones for corrupt politicians like Manchin and Schumer who take advantage of big oil windfalls.

“The science is clear about the worsening climate crisis. We have no time to waste on dirty side issues.”

According to Open Secrets, Manchin has received more campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry this election cycle than any other legislator.

The legislative agreement requires Biden to designate at least 25 energy projects of strategic national importance for federal review within 90 days of approval. Projects must include a minimum of five projects that produce, process, transport or store fossil fuels or biofuels, as well as six non-fossil fuel projects and four mining projects.

The bill sets a two-year limit on environmental assessments for major projects – regardless of their complexity and potential for harm to the environment, water supplies and human health.

According to Brett Hartl, director of government affairs at the Center for Biological Diversity, the bill contains the greatest loss of protection under the fundamental National Environmental Policy Act (Nepa) and the Clean Water Act since at least the last Bush administration, when Republicans took full control. about Congress.

“Any member of Congress who argues that this disastrous legislation is vital to ramping up renewables is understanding or ignoring the massive fossil fuel giveaways at stake,” Hartl said.

The bill was negotiated under a cover of secrecy. Passage through the Senate is far from assured. A small group of progressive Democrats want to separate Manchin’s legislation from the emergency finance bill so they can vote against the permit bill without voting to shut down the government.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley has written a letter to Schumer, with the support of Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — a move that reflects a similar plea from 77 House progressives earlier. this month.

The letter, which was leaked to Politico, reads: “We have heard extensive concerns from the environmental justice community regarding the proposed reforms and are writing to convey the importance of those concerns and to let you know that we share them.”

On Tuesday, Schumer said he planned to add permit reform to the spending bill and “get it done.”

But Republicans who want more radical regulatory and permissive reforms can also vote against the bill, which requires 60 votes to go to the House. Earlier this month, 46 Republicans signed an alternative licensing bill introduced by the other West Virginia senator, Shelley Moore Capito.

Schumer’s decision to capitulate to Manchin has outraged progressives.

Manchin agreed to back his party’s landmark climate legislation ahead of the midterm elections, but only after negotiating a side deal to accelerate the MVP, a shale gas pipeline that would stretch 303 miles across the Appalachians from northwestern West Virginia to southern West Virginia. Virginia.

Senator Tim Kaine called the deal's provisions that circumvent judicial review
Senator Tim Kaine called the deal’s provisions that circumvent judicial review “extremely unusual.” Photo: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Before construction was suspended, the MVP had caused more than 350 water quality violations. Manchin’s bill exempts the MVP from the Endangered Species Act, which experts say will bring two species — the Roanoke logperch and the candy darter — much closer to extinction.

On Wednesday, Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, of Virginia, said he could not support the “highly unusual provisions” regarding the MVP that “eliminate any judicial review.” Kaine said he was barred from talks even though 160 miles of the pipeline would run through his state.

Raúl Grijalva, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, said: “These dangerous permitting shortcuts have been on the industry’s wish list for years. And now they’ve added the Mountain Valley pipeline approval as the cherry on top.

“The fact that this fossil fuel brainchild is being forced to get government funding speaks to its unpopularity. My colleagues and I don’t want this. The communities already hardest hit by the mess of the fossil fuel industry certainly don’t want or deserve it. Even Republicans don’t want this. At this point, our focus should be on keeping the government open, not destructive, unrelated riders. ”

In favor of the bill, Gregory Wetstone, chief executive of the American Council on Renewable Energy, said it contains “provisions that will help streamline the transmission approval process, helping us better meet our country’s decarbonization goals.”

Heather Zichal, chief executive of the American Clean Power Association, said, “Our current licensing system is too cumbersome and bogged down in delays, hampering our ability to grow the clean energy economy.”

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