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Activists Risk Arrest — and Smoke Inhalation — to Fight Mountain Valley Pipeline

The backdrop to our recent protest against the Mountain Valley Pipeline was the continent’s latest climate catastrophe.

Hundreds of frontline and Appalachian climate activists rally against President Biden's endorsement of the Mountain Valley Pipeline on June 8, 2023.

A thick haze covers the White House as hundreds of people, including myself, stand on President Joe Biden’s front steps, masked to protect our lungs from Canadian wildfire smoke and holding signs calling out the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) in West Virginia as more fuel for future wildfires.

On June 8, protesters from around the country gathered, many risking arrest by sitting and standing on the sidewalk next to the White House fence, to draw attention to President Biden’s latest climate betrayal. Demonstrators carried a large blue banner reading: “Biden’s Climate Embarrassment” — complete with the Biden-Harris signature campaign “E.”

The protest backdrop was the continent’s latest climate catastrophe. Wildfires in Canada resulted in air quality in the northeastern United States reaching “Code Purple” — a step worse than “Code Red.” These wildfires are fueled by the climate emergency, caused by historic and continued burning of fossil fuels.

A week before, the movement to stop the MVP was struck a devastating blow. Congress fast-tracked the Biden-endorsed, fracked gas MVP in its debt ceiling bill. The pipeline is a climate nightmare. If it were to be completed and put into service, the greenhouse gas emissions may be equivalent to 19 million passenger vehicles, 23 coal plants, and account for at least 1 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. energy sector. Additionally, it could leak methane, which is a potent accelerator of climate change, and thus of wildfires.

After nearly 10 years of fighting the pipeline, this is devastating news for our movement. It’s also a sign of power. We’ve built a diverse movement across three impacted states and beyond to expose this pipeline’s hundreds of water quality violations, reckless periods of active construction and billion-dollar budget increases. We’ve ensured blocks to legislative short cuts, submitted scientific evidence against the MVP that has led to key court decisions that protect our planet, and witnessed investor tantrums.

Hundreds of frontline and Appalachian climate activists rally against President Biden's endorsement of the Mountain Valley Pipeline on June 8, 2023.
Hundreds of frontline and Appalachian climate activists rally against President Biden's endorsement of the Mountain Valley Pipeline on June 8, 2023.
The protest, attended by activists and members of Congress, demanded that the president reject all new fossil fuel projects.
Hundreds of frontline and Appalachian climate activists rally against President Biden's endorsement of the Mountain Valley Pipeline on June 8, 2023.

Coal baron and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin had to go to the highest rung of power to outjump us because we had him cornered at every angle. Manchin has attempted to shortcut agency and court pipeline review through a half dozen “dirty deals.” The most recent deal was shrouded in rumors of insider trading. Early this year, Manchin’s top aide joined a top oil and gas lobbying group.

Many attributed the fast tracking of MVP to President Biden’s promise to Senator Manchin that he’d support the pipeline in exchange for Manchin’s vote on the Inflation Reduction Act. During the second half of last year, our movement defeated Manchin and West Virginia Rep. Shelley Capito’s attempts to fast track the pipeline more than five times.

But this year they got the golden ticket every beleaguered fossil fuel corporation dreams of: a recommendation letter from the presidential administration to the regulatory agency in charge. Equitrans, one of the companies behind MVP, said that Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s letter of support to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was critical to its approval.

The pipeline has been flailing for nearly a decade and is barely halfway complete, thanks to strategic opposition by hundreds of thousands of people around the country. The movement to stop the MVP has been so influential that the pipeline’s advocates had to appeal to the highest rung of power to get it approved.

This unprecedented step is significant not only because the pipeline has nothing to do with the debt ceiling, but because it opens up the possibility for corporations to buy votes in Congress to get what they want by manipulating must-pass legislation.

We are in the fight for our lives. Despite a deadly global climate crisis, the fossil fuel industry will “overbuild until the end of time,” as Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren, of Dakota Access Pipeline infamy, once said. It’s the people vs. fossil fuels, and President Biden has chosen fossil fuels. But the people are stronger and more organized than ever.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib speaks to protesters at the demonstration in front of the White House. Hundreds of frontline and Appalachian climate activists rally against President Biden's endorsement of the Mountain Valley Pipeline on June 8, 2023.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib speaks to protesters at the demonstration in front of the White House.
Rep. Justin Pearson speaks at the demonstration against the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Hundreds of frontline and Appalachian climate activists rally against President Biden's endorsement of the Mountain Valley Pipeline on June 8, 2023.
Rep. Justin Pearson speaks at the demonstration against the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Hundreds of frontline and Appalachian climate activists rally against President Biden's endorsement of the Mountain Valley Pipeline on June 8, 2023.

President Biden won election in large part due to his commitment to address the climate crisis. But from Alaska, to the Gulf, to Appalachia, he has sacrificed communities for his own political gain. This has particularly enraged young people, who will bear the brunt of the climate crisis. It has also mobilized elders around the country, many of whom believe in risking their safety in order to secure climate action.

The movement we are building does not condone sacrifice zones. We will continue to fight to stop the MVP alongside Appalachians on the frontlines. The construction ahead of MVP is some of the hardest and most dangerous yet; with barely half of the pipeline completed. We will protect our communities from the company’s reckless activities — which resulted in one of the worst climate disasters of 2022. We will expose their activities to the banks and insurers behind the project and continue to demand the cancellation of the unnecessary pipeline.

Beyond that, we must demand Biden declare a climate emergency and stop all new fossil fuel projects.

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