Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke before the Senate on Thursday about the “existential threat of climate change” and how, were a side deal supported by Sen. Joe Manchin to go through, the U.S. would be setting a disastrous example as the climate crisis worsens. Sanders claimed Manchin worked “in concert” with the American Petroleum Institute (API) to draft the permitting fast-track side deal and discussed how a “corrupt political system” could even push things to this point. Sanders isn’t alone in his opposition: The senator from Vermont revealed that as of this writing, 59 House Democrats have signed on to a letter opposing the deal.
I was able to get my hands on the text of that letter, which is still circulating among lawmakers and cites environmental justice and pollution concerns among the many reasons to oppose a change to both permitting and public comment policies established under the National Environmental Policy Act. “[They] are among the only tools local communities have to force careful review of federal projects that may have serious, long-term, environmental, and public health consequences in those communities,” the letter notes.
“The proposed legislation would restrict public access to the courts to seek remedies against illegal project development; place arbitrary limits on the amount of time the public is given to comment on polluting projects; and curtail public input, environmental review, and government accountability,” the letter continues.
“Additionally, the API plan would require a certain number of harmful fossil fuel projects to be designated as ‘projects of strategic national importance’ to receive priority federal support, assistance, and expedited environmental review. These permitting ‘reforms’ would weaken other important public health protections, including the Clean Water Act and more.”
The text of this secondary bill considered to be Manchin’s side deal has yet to be released, though the API dropped its own summary of what’s to come. Lawmakers like Rep. Raul Grijalva have made it clear that this deal would be disastrous when it comes to reaching the United States’ net zero goals, much less in reducing the nation’s role as one the leading countries in the world for emissions. Sanders too did not mince words about the deal and even zeroed in on the Mountain Valley Pipeline that would seemingly benefit Manchin but would generate “emissions equivalent to 37 coal plants or over 27 million cars each and every year.”
The Sierra Club offers similar figures and other environmental groups remain active in the fight against the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Later on Thursday, demonstrators will hold a rally in opposition of the pipeline in Washington, D.C. And from the Democratic National Committee side of things, climate activists and groups also pushed for partywide opposition to the deal, though that resolution ultimately did not pass.
The fight is not over, as Grijalva made clear to me. “In the face of the existential threats like climate change and MAGA extremism, House and Senate leadership has a greater responsibility than ever to avoid risking a government shutdown by jamming divisive policy riders into a must-pass continuing resolution,” Grijalva said.
“Permitting reform hurts already-overburdened communities, puts polluters on an even faster track, and divides the caucus. Now is just not the time.” The House Democrat letter opposing the deal continues to circulate and could see far more than 59 signatures by the end of the week.
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