Climate Activists in Congress: Kill the Manchin Side Deal

In late July, a broad coalition of grassroots activists from across Appalachia was working to file statements on the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline before the public comment period expired. Just a month earlier, the pipeline developer had requested a four-year extension to its certificate to complete the project carrying fractured gas over more than 300 miles of farmland, mountains, rivers and streams. Organizers of local groups such as Protect our water, our heritage and our rights (POWHR)and Mountain Valley Watchwith the Sierra Club and 7 Departments of Service, mobilized to register the opposition to the extension request. This was the last round of their six-year campaign to stop the pipeline before it could be completed.

On July 27, two days before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s deadline for comment closed, a landmark investment in renewable energy and climate programs was announced. Once passed, the Cut Inflation Act would allocate billions of dollars to electrify the nation’s transportation system, support disadvantaged environmental justice communities, and invest in renewable energy systems. Many climate activists across the country celebrated the news.

But for those in the Appalachian states still battling the Mountain Valley Pipeline, news of the act came with a bitter pill to swallow: a reported handshake agreement between Sen. Joe Manchin and Democratic leaders who, among others , would legislate the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

“We were facing the FERC comment deadline, a very short window where people could make their voices heard that we don’t want this polluting pipeline in our backyards, and then the news broke,” said Russell Chisholm of Mountain Valley Watch. Sierra. “I spoke to many people affected that day and the days that followed, and many described it as a blow to me. The dominant feeling was one of betrayal.

Today, September 8, organizers will converge on Capitol Hill for a day of rallying and lobbying to try to sink the so-called Manchin side deal. “There is power in numbers,” said Crystal Cavalier, a resident of Mebane, North Carolina. Sierra. She is a co-founder of 7 Directions of Service and a longtime organizer against the Mountain Valley Pipeline, as well as a member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation. “We are going to close this. We have a lot of people we network with and they will be in DC talking to their reps. We have buses scheduled to take people there from Virginia to West Virginia. When people show up in numbers, they can change their policy.

The Manchin side deal was not part of the final text of the Cut Inflation Act that President Joe Biden signed into law on August 16. But the news that Democratic leaders are considering the deal – and that the American Petroleum Institute not only lobbied for it, but actually authored the original draft— threw a wet blanket over the celebrations of the Inflation Reduction Act. The side deal, if passed, would overhaul the licensing process for oil and gas projects and undermine environmental reviews of such projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Although the Mountain Valley Pipeline is not explicitly named in the draft drafted by the American Petroleum Institute, projects like this would directly benefit if the language becomes law. Policymakers are expected to accept the deal when they return from recess this month.

Appalachian organizers believe they risk being sacrificed to carry out climate action. “I was furious,” Chisholm says. “Who else was at that negotiating table who thought this was a fair deal? We were certainly not in the room when this discussion took place. Other leaders in Congress and the White House were having these discussions and apparently thought it was a fair compromise. Well, we’re not going to be traded.

Since the hydraulic fracturing boom in the Marcellus Shale began more than a decade ago, fossil fuel companies have sought to route the gas produced there to power plants and plastics manufacturing complexes in other parts of the world. other regions of the country. Two major pipelines have been proposed to transport the gas: the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 600-mile juggernaut that would have cut through forests from West Virginia to North Carolina as it zigzags down the Appalachian Trail; and the smaller but still important Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile bet to transport 2 billion cubic feet of fracked gas per day from Joe Manchin’s West Virginia through southern Virginia.

Community organizers along the proposed routes have fiercely opposed both projects, fearing the pipelines will damage national forests, affect water quality and endangered species, jeopardize public safety and allow the use of eminent domain to seize building land. In 2020, after years of litigation and organized resistance, the controlling company behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Dominion Energy, announced it was pulling out of the project altogether.

But the Mountain Valley Pipeline resisted. And it left a trail of destruction in its wake.

The pipeline has been plagued with misfortune since its developer started digging. In 2019, the Commonwealth of Virginia filed a lawsuit against Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC for causing significant erosion in the southwestern portion of the state. The company lost the case and was ordered to pay a $2.5 million fine. This is just one example of dozens of documented cases of environmental destruction the construction of the pipeline contributed, in particular hundreds of water quality violations. Its construction route has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. In 2019, when concerns were raised that pipeline excavators had overlooked the presence of Indigenous burial mounds when mapping its route, the company described the burial mounds in a letter to FERC as being “a pile of stones”.

Photo courtesy of Crystal Mello

Six years after the pipeline was first proposed, it is now billions of dollars over budget and years behind. Despite its troubled history and long list of environmental violations, on August 23, FERC granted Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC the four extensions it sought to complete the project.

“We have shown time and time again that the gas that would come through this pipeline is not necessary,” said Kelly Sheehan, senior director of energy campaigns at the Sierra Club. “Now here is the Cut Inflation Act, which gives a big boost to clean energy saving in a way that further displaces any need for gas, electricity needs being met by solar and wind turbines and energy efficiency incentives are other reasons why this gas is not needed in our economy which is why Joe Manchin is trying to legislate his way into existence.

Manchin has received more political contributions from the oil and gas industry than any other member of the Senate. Pipeline companies like the one that built the Mountain Valley Pipeline donated $331,000 to Manchin this year alone.

The Cut Inflation Act represents a once-in-a-lifetime investment in renewable energy just as the United States faces the climate crisis. But the new law only addresses one side of the climate equation: While the law increases investment in clean energy, it does nothing to phase out civilization-threatening fossil fuel production. In fact, to make the law palatable to Manchin, the law guarantees drilling opportunities in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, the Manchin side deal, if passed, would speed up polluting projects like the Mountain Valley pipeline.

Community organizers who applaud the Cut Inflation Act for its historic investment in clean energy and environmental justice say their land and homes, water and air must not be sacrificed in the name of climate progress .

“There are real lives at stake with this,” said Crystal Mellow, a community organizer with the POWHR Coalition. In addition to organizing, she also joined tree guardians to protest the route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline through her community. “We have been turned into a sacrifice zone. I understand that the Cut Inflation Act is great for many different reasons, such as reducing emissions and tax cuts for electric vehicles. But people in our community are not buying electric vehicles. They can’t afford it. So to pass this Manchin deal would be an insult.

“We don’t have much here,” continued Mellow. “What we have is a beautiful river and a beautiful landscape. We have clean air. Many of us don’t go to the Cascades to hike or to the beach. We go to the river down the road. We count the fireflies. We appreciate what we have here as a low income community. We may be lacking in resources in some ways, but we are rich in natural resources. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice what little we have.

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