As climate campaigners and frontline community leaders prepared to converge on Capitol Hill Thursday to rally against a federal permitting overhaul pushed by Sen. Joe Manchin, a newly released report aimed to debunk the West Virginia senator’s false claims about a long-stalled fracked gas pipeline that would likely benefit from the proposed reforms.
Titled “Why Everything Manchin Says About the Mountain Valley Pipeline Is Wrong,” the analysis by Oil Change International (OCI) spotlights and counters three prominent claims that Manchin has made about the pipeline project as he attempts to usher it toward completion despite the threat it poses to the environment and communities in its path.
One claim OCI targets is the notion that the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) could actually serve as a tool to fight the climate crisis, namely by displacing polluting coal facilities. As Manchin put it in an April statement, full approval of the pipeline set to run through his home state would enable the U.S. to “domestically produce the natural gas we need today and support our energy and climate goals for decades to come.”
OCI responds that “if MVP is completed, it would add tens of millions of tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution to the atmosphere every year for decades to come.”
“These emissions would come from pipeline operations, methane gas leakage, and end users burning the pipeline’s gas,” report notes. “The United States has pledged to reduce GHG emissions at least 50% from 2005 levels by 2030. Manchin and MVP’s owners try to resolve this contradiction by assuming the pipeline will help the Southeast replace coal-fired power with gas-fired power, ignoring the fact that cheap, clean renewable energy is increasingly displacing coal and gas.”
“The pipeline would have to substantially displace coal emissions over and above the emissions it causes,” the report continues. “MVP’s operators ultimately plan to expand the pipeline’s capacity — and thus its emissions — by 25%. This means MVP would need to replace 25 coal plants by 2030… That’s a tall order for one pipeline.”
OCI also rejects the narrative pushed by Manchin and other pipeline apologists that a completed and operational MVP would help free up gas for export to western European nations — which are currently attempting to wean themselves off Russian fossil fuels — and meet supposedly growing gas needs in the U.S.
“Expanding existing terminals or building new ones will take several years,” OCI replies. “Even if the United States builds
new export capacity, it will arrive far too late to help European allies.”
As for the claim that regions of the U.S., particularly the Southeast, are in need of gas that could be supplied by the MVP, OCI says that “demand in the Southeast, the region MVP would serve, is already well supplied by existing pipelines.”
The report adds:
Further, gas demand in the region is expected to fall by at least 7% from 2019-2030. Nationally, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)—which has a long history of underestimating renewables growth—expects gas consumption to fall 2% between 2022 and 2023.
The EIA says increasing renewable energy generation in the coming years will displace gas (and coal) consumption in the power sector, busting the myth that gas is the primary way to displace coal from our power system.
Lorne Stockman, OCI’s research co-director at Oil Change International and a co-author of the new report, said in a statement Thursday that Democratic leaders must “understand that Manchin’s desire to see the Mountain Valley Pipeline completed is based on his fossil fuel donors’ interests rather than any value the pipeline actually has for U.S. or European energy security or the climate.”
“MVP is a false solution looking for a problem,” said Stockman. “It’s out of date and out of time.”
Manchin, the top recipient of oil and gas industry donations in Congress, secured a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to pursue the permitting reform package in exchange for the West Virginia Democrat’s vote for the Inflation Reduction Act, legislation that included substantial renewable energy investments as well as limited drug pricing reforms and other changes.
Manchin said Wednesday that he expects permitting reforms — which would weaken environmental review requirements and pave the way for MVP and other dirty energy projects — to be included in a must-pass government funding measure set to receive a vote later this month.
But with the Inflation Reduction Act now law and reportedly spurring a surge in renewable energy projects, progressive lawmakers say they feel no obligation to support permitting changes — and some are actively speaking out against the Manchin deal.
“We will vote this dirty deal down, one way or another,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said last month.
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