Frontline communities and climate campaigners on Wednesday reiterated their opposition to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's "dirty deal" after the West Virginia Democrat unveiled the full text of his proposal to overhaul federal permitting for energy projects.
Since Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed to force through the previously unreleased permitting legislation after passing the Inflation Reduction Act, climate and environmental justice advocates have joined with progressive lawmakers to sound the alarm.
"Manchin's new legislation is even more reckless and dangerous than previous drafts," declared Collin Rees, United States program manager at Oil Change International. "The bill would devastate communities and the climate while making a mockery of Congress and the Biden administration's commitments to environmental justice."
"'Permitting reform' that drastically reduces public input and regulation is an attack on bedrock environmental laws and critical protections. This entire exercise is a vehicle for Manchin and his fossil fuel donors to lock in new fossil fuel infrastructure and force through a massive gas pipeline," Rees added, referring to the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).
Noting that residents of West Virginia and Virginia have "tirelessly fought" against the MVP for the past eight years, Mountain Valley Watch coordinator Russell Chisholm said that "Manchin's dirty pipeline deal is an insult to his constituents and furthers a fossil-fueled death sentence to many people and the planet."
In addition to specifically endorsing the MVP, the Energy Independence and Security Act put forth by Manchin—chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee—would accelerate reviews of proposed energy infrastructure, prioritize projects of "strategic national importance," and update portions of existing permitting law.
"Sen. Manchin's so-called permitting reform bill is little more than a shameless handout to the fossil fuel industry—a green light for oil and gas companies to keep on digging, drilling, fracking, and polluting," warned Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter. "At a time when frontline communities and the entire planet are crying out for climate action and clean energy, this dirty backroom deal would drive us deeper into fossil fuel dependence for decades to come."
"It should come as no surprise that a corporate coal baron like Joe Manchin would push a fossil fuel bonanza under the guise of bureaucratic reform," she continued. "For the sake of countless communities suffering air and water pollution today, and a livable climate for generations to come, this dirty permitting deal must be rendered dead on arrival."
Earthworks policy director Lauren Pagel, who also slammed the bill, stressed that "the transition to clean energy cannot be built on irresponsible development that pollutes the water and fouls the air of nearby communities," and urged Schumer and the White House to "take a hard stand against the exploitation of frontline communities."
Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, pushed back against claims by Manchin and others that the proposal would benefit renewable energy along with fossil fuel projects.
"We don't need to gut the Clean Water Act and other bedrock environmental laws to build out wind and solar energy," he said. "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. This measure cuts off communities' rights to voice concerns about dangerous projects."
While Schumer had made clear that he intends to pair a permitting bill with a continuing resolution that lawmakers must pass before the end of the month to prevent a government shutdown, a growing number of progressives in Congress are calling on Democratic leadership to hold separate votes.
"To no one's surprise, this side deal looks just as dirty as it did when it was leaked last month—except without the American Petroleum Institute's watermark on it this time. But you can still see fossil fuel's fingerprints all over the text," asserted House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz. "And now they've added the Mountain Valley Pipeline approval as the rotten cherry on top of the pile."
"The very fact that this fossil fuel brainchild is being force-fed into must-pass government funding speaks to its unpopularity. My colleagues and I don't want this," said Grijalva, who last week led a related letter to House Democratic leaders. "I urge leadership to listen to the many members asking to keep this out of a continuing resolution and avoid a shutdown standoff this country doesn't need."
"We won't be backed into a corner with deceptive political maneuvering which aims to ram his bill through as part of funding the government," May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said Wednesday. "Congress should take on Manchin's bill separately and stop putting our communities in the position of either having the government funded or having their livelihoods destroyed through fossil fuel permitting."
While some campaigners have highlighted the flaws of the Inflation Reduction Act, Earthjustice president Abigail Dillen on Wednesday pointed out that Manchin's bill would undo some of the progress made with Democrats' historic package, which President Joe Biden signed into law last month.
"With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, Congress gave over $1 billion to federal agencies to conduct comprehensive environmental reviews on the large-scale projects needed for our energy transition," she noted. "This proposal will undercut that progress, fast-track dangerous polluting projects, and rob people of the opportunity to have a say in the projects built in their backyards."
"Congress must instead pass the Environmental Justice For All Act," she said. "In sharp contrast to the permitting side deal, this legislation was crafted in direct consultation with communities and creates a public engagement framework that would provide certainty to project sponsors and ensure our clean energy transition proceeds in a just and equitable way. Adding the permitting side deal to must-pass funding is a poison pill, and we urge Democratic leadership to decouple them and allow the deal to stand on its own merits."
Republicans, meanwhile, are backing an alternate permit reform bill introduced earlier this month by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.