Environmental justice activists say Congressional plans to fast-track approval of new fossil fuel infrastructure – part of a controversial side deal reached by Democrats on the Environmental Reduction Act inflation – endanger communities in the path of new mega-pipelines and export terminals. These projects would almost guarantee the pollution responsible for global warming for decades to come, organizers say.
Crystal Mello lives in one such community, a rural area outside of Elliston, Virginia. Mello says his family is lucky to live outside the “blast zone” – the roughly three-mile radius of a hypothetical explosion caused by an accident along the Mountain Valley pipeline – but the anxiety at About this “particularly risky” pipeline traversing steep and uneven Appalachian terrain prompted Mello to organize with other locals and join activists resisting the project. Like many other Appalachian volunteers, Mello has documented accidents and safety violations at pipeline construction sites over the past four years.
“For people in my community who will never be able to afford an electric car, who worry about insulation during the winter, no matter [the Inflation Reduction Act] is a golden egg or whatever,” Mello said in an interview. “This company still does shitty work.”
Equitrans, one of the companies building the more than 300-mile fractured pipeline, recently asked federal regulators for a four-year extension to complete construction of the long-delayed divisive project, which has been the subject of numerous lawsuits. , court injunctions, license violations and at least one direct action blockade. The company now says the pipeline will be completed in 2023, thanks to a deal reached in Congress between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, both Democrats.
To secure Manchin’s crucial vote on the Cut Inflation Act – which represents a crucial slice of President Joe Biden’s agenda that contains a slew of grassroots climate and environmental justice provisions, as well as other Democratic priorities — Democrats have agreed to pursue separate legislation aimed at accelerating the approval and construction of new fossil fuel projects.
The $370 billion Cut Inflation Act would make historic investments in clean energy, electric cars and environmental justice communities affected by industrial pollution and the climate crisis, all investments environmentalists say that they are absolutely necessary. However, activists say the “gifts” to industry are buried in the bill and that the Manchin deal would undermine legal tools used by communities to block pipelines and other projects.
A draft plan of the agreement reads: “Complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline.” The proposal would also set deadlines for federal permit reviews and litigation for other new fossil fuel projects, including natural gas export terminals and others of “strategic national importance.” Activists say such legislation would undermine the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), a basic federal law regularly used by activists and communities threatened by controversial projects.
The compromise proposal must pass as separate legislation with the support of Senate Republicans, who voted against the Cut Inflation Act but are leading supporters of fossil fuels.
Anusha Narayanan, climate campaign director for Greenpeace USA, pointed out that Manchin is a top Senate recipient of contributions from the fossil fuel industry, including companies invested in the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would transport the gas fractured in its state towards the East Coast. for export. NextEra Energy, a utility with a stake in the pipeline, is a top donor to Manchin and Schumer, as reported The New York Times.
“This side deal is Manchin’s cherished deal with the fossil fuel industry and a way to appease them,” Narayanan said in an interview. “NEPA has been a way for frontline groups and grassroots activists to be able to fight these infrastructure projects in their backyards that have polluted their air and water, and we can’t sugarcoat that.”
As Russian President Vladimir Putin takes advantage of the natural gas supplies that keep the lights on in Europe while becoming increasingly isolated to invade and brutalize Ukraine, the Biden administration and other leading Democrats are giving now the priority for the export of fractured gas from the United States.
High global fuel prices, fueled by inflation and the war in Ukraine, are colliding with efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and around the world, creating the kind of political chaos over which Putin counts to bring down his opponents. Biden and the Democrats have also faced withering, and sometimes counterfactual, attacks on fuel prices from Republicans eager to scrap Biden’s modest climate agenda and seize control of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections. mandate.
The fossil fuel industry is jumping at the chance. Industry is eager to finalize permits for liquefied fractured gas export terminals and major pipelines such as Mountain Valley, and the Biden administration wants more gas exports to Europe, where allies are facing to the prospect of fuel shortages this winter due to Putin’s maneuvers. Policymakers tend to back gas because it burns cleaner than coal, and industry wants to lock in new infrastructure to keep pumping fossil fuels for decades even as much of the world turns towards cleaner energy.
The industry also secured a major victory buried deep in the sprawling Cut Inflation Act. Before renewables can develop on federal property, the bill would require regulators to open up vast swaths of public land and ocean waters to oil and gas drilling, a practice Biden has pledged to put in place. end during the election campaign. According to a recent statement from the Center for Biological Diversity:
The bill would require the Department of the Interior to offer at least 2 million acres of public land and 60 million acres of offshore waters for oil and gas leasing each year for a decade as a precondition to the installation of any new solar or wind energy. If the ministry did not provide these minimum amounts for lease, no rights of way could be granted for any large-scale renewable energy project on public lands or waters.
“This is a climate suicide pact,” continued Brett Hartl, director of government affairs at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s counterproductive to tie renewable energy development to massive new oil and gas extraction.”
James Hiatt lives near three export terminals operating in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and at least seven more are proposed for the area despite opposition from local residents and environmental groups. Hiatt, an organizer with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental justice group, said there was no reason to fast-track permits for new terminals. Several proposed terminals received key permits years ago and have not yet started.
“Allowing delays is not what stopped these gas export projects from being built; it was the lack of real market need for the gas that held them back,” Hiatt said in an interview, noting that investors often look at long-term profits rather than short-term gains. “Locking up this fossil fuel infrastructure is a 30-year contract, and all of these gas export terminals are expected to operate for at least 30 years, so what ends up being built will have a big impact on the climate.”
Narayanan warned that investments in renewable energy domestically would push the industry to export more fossil fuels overseas, potentially reversing progress the United States has made on its own climate emissions.
“The potential reduction in domestic fossil fuel consumption due to the Inflation Reduction Act, coupled with the Ukraine crisis and Europe’s energy demands, could lead to disastrous levels of gas exports,” Narayanan said. “This will have huge health, safety, and climate justice impacts for communities here in the United States and for communities overseas that burn fossil fuels.”