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Ahead of a Washington, D.C. mobilization, activists in California pressured key Democrats—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dianne Feinstein—to oppose a permitting reform deal being pushed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on September 2, 2022. (Photo: Fossil Fuels vs. People/Twitter)

DC Mobilization to Warn Manchin Permit Deal Is a 'Threat to Our Democracy'

"We need real climate solutions, not false compromises to line pockets, threaten tribal sovereignty, and weaken our already lacking environmental protections," said Cheyenna Morgan of Ikiya Collective.

Jessica Corbett

Frontline organizers and community members fighting against U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's proposed federal permitting reforms that would benefit the fossil fuel industry are set to descend on Washington, D.C. Thursday.

"We want Democrats in Congress to understand that Manchin's side deal is using people as sacrifice zones and it is unacceptable."

Since Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreed behind closed doors to push through a permitting measure in order to secure support from Manchin (D-W.Va.) for the Inflation Reduction Act, signed last month by President Joe Biden, campaigners across the country have been organizing against the deal—including with arrests at congressional offices.

Despite pressure from campaigners and dozens of Democrats led by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, Schumer confirmed Wednesday that he plans to pair the "dirty side deal" with a continuing resolution that members of Congress must pass this month to prevent a government shutdown.

After weeks of virtually lobbying lawmakers, campaigners intend to have in-person conversations about the permit policies and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) on Thursday. Naadiya Hutchinson of WE ACT for Environmental Justice told Common Dreams that "the goal of these meetings is to really showcase people's stories."

"There are Indigenous folks and frontline folks that are deeply, deeply concerned about what further construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline would do to their health, well-being, and livelihood," she said. "So this is really an opportunity for grassroots and community voices to be heard in person, face-to-face, with many of the people that will be in many ways determining the difference between life and death for some of our communities."

The mobilization, "No Sacrifice Zones: Appalachian Resistance Comes to D.C.," is being organized by the People vs. Fossil Fuels and Stop MVP coalitions. After meeting with lawmakers, the groups plan to hold a 5:00 pm rally at the Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon, at the intersection of New Jersey and Constitution avenues.

As frontline activists mobilize in D.C., the Democratic National Committee is scheduled to vote on a resolution opposing the deal. The Washington Post reported that "although the resolution is not expected to pass, it highlights a growing rift in the Democratic Party over permitting reform, a critical issue on the congressional agenda this fall."

One of the rally speakers, Cheyenna Morgan of the frontline-led group Ikiya Collective, told Common Dreams that "we want Democrats in Congress to understand that Manchin's side deal is using people as sacrifice zones and it is unacceptable."

"We know that those that hold the power will never be impacted the way we will, the way our future generations, cultures, and languages are being affected," Morgan said. "We need real climate solutions, not false compromises to line pockets, threaten tribal sovereignty, and weaken our already lacking environmental protections. People are not sacrifice zones."

Manchin's demands include prioritizing projects of "strategic national importance," setting time limits for permit reviews, making changes to clean water rules, restricting court challenges, enhancing federal authority for certain projects, and completing the MVP—a fracked gas pipeline that would run through his state.

A Wednesday letter from 80 groups to Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) argues that the MVP "is an ecological and climate disaster that threatens one of the largest remaining wild landscapes in the Eastern United States," and including support for it in the bill "would send a clear message that Congress is willing to ignore climate science when it is inconvenient, and species can go written off to the dustbin of extinction when it is politically expedient to do so."

Though a draft bill leaked to the Post last month did not mention the MVP by name, the newspaper noted that "a person familiar with the matter said the permitting package would still help the pipeline, which has been mired in litigation and other delays, by expediting permitting and licensing under the Clean Water Act."

Referencing the draft reported by the Post in August, which had a watermark of a key fossil fuel trade group, Louisiana Bucket Brigade director Anne Rolfes said in a statement Wednesday that "we have seen this too often: Industry ghostwrites a bill, and a politician eager for campaign contributions does its bidding."

"This time it is the polluter loophole bill, a cynical and greedy play by Sen. Manchin and his backers, the American Petroleum Institute, that will not only exacerbate the effects of climate change, but will also sacrifice generations of Louisianans, especially Louisianans of color," she continued. "And for what? For money."

Joye Braun of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Indigenous Environmental Network told Common Dreams that a main message of Thursday's mobilization is that Manchin and Schumer's deal "is not flying and is not going to fly with frontline leaders, Indigenous communities, BIPOC communities, especially along the Mountain Valley Pipeline or any other extractive industry that threatens our communities and ties us into worsening and hastening climate catastrophe."

"They're calling it a permitting deal but we don't need to reform permitting. Permitting is actually working," she emphasized. "What isn't working is industry forcing their way through our communities, forcing their way into polluting our waters, lands, and the air that we breathe, and putting people's lives in jeopardy—and even killing some people."

"This is our environment—all of our environment. This isn't a free-for-all for extractive industry."

"This is a threat to our democracy," according to Braun, who also highlighted concerns about tribal sovereignty. "This is a threat to the right [of] the people to have a say in our laws and in the way that we protect our environment. This is our environment—all of our environment. This isn't a free-for-all for extractive industry."

Hutchinson similarly stressed that "we do not believe that the permit side deal should be connected to the continuing resolution because the permit side deal should go through the full legislative process. This side deal was a deal between a select few and doesn't reflect the wider needs of our constituencies. It doesn't respect the work of environmental justice communities and, honestly, it undermines in many ways our democracy."

With the mobilization, she said, "I think one of the core messages that we want to send to members of Congress is that we need a just transition, which requires full participation of communities in permitting."

"When communities come together and dream and envision a future for ourselves, that has created legislation like the Environmental Justice for All Act, which is in direct opposition with what this permit side deal is leading us toward," Hutchinson said, referencing a bill sponsored by Grijalva and passed by his committee in July.

Given the recent attacks on American democracy, "I think we should be uplifting" it, she added. "The Environmental Justice for All Act is one of those ways that we uplift democracy, and the permitting side deal is sadly a reinforcement of the direction we don't want to be going in."


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