Conservative coal baron Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) released the text of a 91-page permitting proposal containing huge giveaways to the fossil fuel industry on Wednesday night — and senators from both sides of the aisle have expressed their disapproval.
The proposal is the result of a deal made between Manchin and Democratic leaders to convince the conservative Democrat to support the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). It would expedite fossil fuel projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline, weaken the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and require President Joe Biden to choose 25 energy projects to prioritize, including a “minimum” number of Big Oil priorities like fossil fuel and carbon capture projects, according to the summary of the bill.
In short, the proposal would majorly ramp up the permitting and construction process for a wide swath of fossil fuel projects and would further entrench the fossil fuel industry for years to come — posing a major threat to a livable planet.
Democratic leaders planned for the proposal to be included in an upcoming government spending bill that must be passed by the end of this month in order to avert a government shutdown. But now that the text of the deal has been released, lawmakers from both major parties are voicing their opposition, potentially dooming the proposal in an ironic twist of fate for Manchin.
The latest Democrat to speak out against the bill was Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), who told reporters that the provisions for the Mountain Valley Pipeline are “completely unacceptable. I was not consulted about it. I will do everything I can to oppose it.”
“Allowing a corporation that is unhappy about losing a case to strip jurisdiction away from the entire court that has handled the case? Unprecedented,” added Kaine, referring to a proposal to require litigation on the pipeline to be moved from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has ruled against the pipeline multiple times, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. “It would open the door for massive abuse and corruption.”
Kaine joins a small chorus of Democratic senators who oppose the deal. A group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) made their opposition known with a letter on Wednesday asking for the bill to come to a vote separately from the budget bill so that opponents can vote against it without risking a government shutdown.
The letter was signed by Democratic Senators Cory Booker (New Jersey), Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), among others.
“We have heard extensive concerns from the environmental justice community regarding the proposed permitting reforms and are writing to convey the importance of those concerns, and to let you know that we share them,” the lawmakers wrote, per Politico. Only Sanders has publicly made the pledge to vote against the budget bill if Manchin’s proposal is included.
Meanwhile, it appears that Republicans oppose the deal out of a desire for revenge for the passage of the IRA. Nearly all Senate Republicans have signed onto their own fossil fuel permitting proposal, led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia). Their proposal is similar to Manchin’s bill, with provisions like fast tracking the Mountain Valley Pipeline, but would go further in opening up avenues for air and water pollution with provisions like removing the Clean Air Act requirement for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review federal construction projects. The GOP proposal likely has no chance of passing or being attached to the budget bill.
Manchin’s proposal also faces opposition from Democrats in the House. Last week, a group of 77 House Democrats sent a letter to the chamber’s leadership, urging them to oppose the inclusion of Manchin’s deal in the government spending bill, saying that the provisions amount to “attempts to short-circuit or undermine the law in the name of ‘reform.’”
Climate and Appalachian activists have spoken out against the deal, with hundreds of groups sending multiple letters and leading protests against what they say is a massive and unacceptable giveaway to fossil fuels.
“We’ll never get off fossil fuels if Congress keeps greasing the skids to make it ever easier to approve dirty gas pipelines, refineries and other polluting infrastructure,” government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity Brett Hartl said in a press release that characterizes Manchin’s deal as the “most significant environmental rollback in decades.”
“Any member of Congress who claims this disastrous legislation is vital for ramping up renewables either doesn’t understand or is ignoring the enormous fossil fuel giveaways at stake,” Hartl continued.
Appalachian organizers are angered by the deal, saying that it undoes years of progress and struggle from local Indigenous and community activists.
”For eight years we have tirelessly fought the Mountain Valley Pipeline and other fossil fuel projects in West Virginia and Virginia,” Russell Chisholm, Mountain Valley Watch coordinator, said in a statement. “Nearly a decade of our lives and our health has been shaped by fighting these unnecessary projects as the climate crisis escalates and pummels our homes with intensified storms and floods. Manchin’s dirty pipeline deal is an insult to his constituents and furthers a fossil-fueled death sentence to many people and the planet.”