Climate Corner: The dirty (debt ceiling) deal
Jun 10, 2023
Climate activists across the country, and especially in West Virginia, have been working hard to keep the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) a pipe dream. Critics oppose it for potential environmental concerns while supporters see it as a significant energy development project. First proposed in 2014, this 42″ diameter pipeline would carry 2 billion cubic feet per day of gas and stretch 303 miles across the heart of West Virginia into Southwestern Virginia to markets in the mid Atlantic and Southeastern U.S. Due to the MVP’s lengthy history of environmental issues and court challenges against it brought by landowners and opponents, work has been off and on since 2018. MVP is currently only 56% complete and still has 429 water crossings to complete. During this construction, it has accrued over 500 violations of permit conditions and state environmental laws and over $3 million in fines.
The debt ceiling deal negotiated between Biden and Speaker McCarthy, titled the Fiscal Responsibility Act, has led to an unjust approval of the MVP. Buried in this bill is a section forcing approval of the completion of this totally unrelated controversial gas pipeline. Amid a flood of fossil fuel cash, Biden and Congress deployed a legal maneuver known as “jurisdiction stripping” to protect the pipeline from further legal challenges. Interestingly, Biden and Democratic lawmakers have declined to use the same maneuver to protect abortion and other civil rights from federal courts.
The dirty deal requires the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue permits for the MVP and prohibits judicial review of these permits. Removing meaningful agency and judicial review sets a dangerous precedent as it further rigs the process and promotes the unchecked political power of fossil fuel executives and their political pawns. This effectively cuts out the voice of impacted people in front line communities which will be sacrificed to more decades of hazardous toxins that pollute water and air and expose residents to untold health risks. Completing the MVP accelerates the climate crisis as it will have the equivalent to the emissions from 26 coal plants. And Americans shouldn’t have to choose between a national default and the MVP.
Biden promised to be a climate president. Yet the U.S. continues to be the biggest producer of oil and gas in the world. And fast tracking fossil fuel projects in general, and the MVP in particular, are not the actions of the climate President we need. American journalist, David Sirota, writer for online news organization, The Lever, recently tweeted; “The debt deal protects tax cuts for the rich, gives defense contractors more cash, expedites a fossil gas pipeline during the climate crisis – and makes it harder for starving people to get food stamps”. Although industry leaders are elated, environmentalists are outraged over the administration’s willingness to sacrifice front-line communities to keep Big Oil, and its defenders, like Senator Manchin and the MAGA caucus, satisfied. Deals that roll back environmental law and permitting reform that is heavily slanted toward the fossil fuel industry are contrary to the clean energy and transmission line reform needed to meet clean energy goals.
Opponents of the MVP are still standing against a future of unfettered fossil fuel expansion and will continue their fight against the project. Fortunately, there’s time for Biden to turn it around thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, which was spared from harsh cuts in the debt ceiling deal. Actions this month will lay the groundwork for that to happen prior to the UN climate summit scheduled in New York this September. People vs. Fossil Fuels and several other organizational sponsors, including 350.org are mobilizing to turn up the heat and make Biden take real climate action. Across the country, actions are being organized to demand Biden use his executive powers to end the era of fossil fuels and declare a climate emergency. A rally was held at the White House on June 8 to bring the consequences of the debt ceiling deal to his doorstep. And in communities across the nation, June 8-11, more than 50 smaller local End the Era of Fossil Fuels rallies are scheduled. If we really want to save the grandchildren, it’s now more crucial than ever that people concerned about the climate crisis make their voices heard.
Giulia Mannarino, of Belleville, is a grandmother concerned for her granddaughter’s future, and vice president of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.