The Senate voted to advance a must-pass government funding bill on Tuesday night after a so-called side deal to greatly expand fossil fuel infrastructure sponsored by conservative Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) was taken out, in a massive victory for thousands of climate and community activists who mobilized against the proposal.
Manchin announced before the vote on Tuesday that the proposal had been taken out after it became clear that it wouldn’t have the votes to pass. If it had been attached to the budget bill, the vote would likely have failed, potentially triggering a government shutdown at the end of this month.
The proposal would have severely limited the regulatory power of key environmental laws and given the green light to numerous oil and gas projects, garnering fierce opposition from activists and progressive lawmakers for its moves to enrich and entrench the fossil fuel industry. Indeed, the proposal appeared to have been at least partially written by the major fossil fuel trade group, American Petroleum Institute, an ally of Manchin, himself a coal baron.
Research has found that the bill would have been a major contributor to the climate crisis. An analysis by Oil Change International found the projects that would have been fast tracked by the fossil fuel expansion bill would have added 665 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere yearly, more than negating any of the supposed emissions reductions impacts that proponents of the bill had said it would create.
Indigenous and community activists who live along the proposed path of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which Manchin sought to fast track with the bill, said that the bill would have exposed Appalachian communities to countless spills and other safety hazards during the pipeline’s construction and while it was in operation.
Climate and community activists celebrated the death – however temporary – of Manchin’s proposal.
“Senator Manchin’s dirty deal went down in flames today because Indigenous and frontline communities raised their voices and fought back,” said Oil Change International in a statement, while warning that the deal could still rear its head in upcoming bills. “This legislation would have had deadly consequences for communities and the climate, and we applaud all Members of Congress who stood with frontline communities and boldly opposed it. That’s real climate leadership.”
Food and Water Watch noted that the campaign to kill the proposal was successful despite the odds.
“Tonight’s turnaround represents a remarkable, against-all-odds victory by a determined grassroots climate movement against the overwhelming financial and political might of the fossil fuel industry and its Senate enablers,” said Food and Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter in a statement. “While the campaign against polluting oil and gas is far from over, this repudiation of Senator Manchin’s so-called permitting reform bill marks a huge victory against dirty energy – and also against dirty backroom Washington dealmaking.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) also celebrated the victory for climate activists.
“I want to congratulate the more than 650 environmental groups and community organizations who made clear that, in the midst of the horrific climate crisis that we face, the last thing we need is a side deal which would build more pipelines and fossil fuel projects,” said Sanders in a statement. “This is a victory for the survival of the planet and a major loss for the fossil fuel industry.”
Sanders was a key opponent of the deal. Last week, he sent a letter urging his colleagues to oppose the deal and had signed onto another letter from eight senators last week sharing their concerns about potential deleterious impacts to environmental justice that the deal would have created.
Over 70 Democrats in the House had also voiced their opposition to the deal, provisions of which they said were tantamount to “attempts to short-circuit or undermine the law in the name of ‘reform.’”
However, it was the opposition of not only Democrats but also Republicans that appeared to have helped to kill the proposal in the Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) had been whipping Republicans to vote against the proposal for reasons that appear to be chalked up to revenge for the party; the GOP had come up with its own fossil fuel permitting bill that shares similarities with Manchin’s deal. And their opposition to Manchin’s side deal appears to have been triggered by the West Virginia senator’s support of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which they viewed as a betrayal.
Nonetheless, the Republican version of the fossil fuel expansion bill will likely not garner the support of enough Democrats to pass.