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Sen. Joe Manchin holds a press conference

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) holds a news conference on permitting reform in the Capitol in Washington on September 20, 2022. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

Manchin 'Getting Desperate' as Opposition to Dirty Permitting Deal Grows Louder

After the West Virginia senator claimed he's a victim of "revenge politics," Sen. Bernie Sanders responded: "Defeating the Big Oil side deal is not about revenge."

Jake Johnson

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia held a press conference and delivered a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday making the case for federal permitting reforms and defending his proposed changes from progressive criticism, an indication that he's feeling the heat as opposition to what critics have dubbed the senator's "dirty deal" continues to build.

"Manchin is getting desperate, it's the only reason he'd host a press conference like this," argued Jamie Henn, the director of Fossil Free Media. "But the more he defends his dirty deal, the clearer it is this is just a grab bag of handouts to his fossil fuel industry donors. Today's performance only strengthens our opposition."

"The more he defends his dirty deal, the clearer it is this is just a grab bag of handouts to his fossil fuel industry donors."

During his press conference, the West Virginia senator announced that the full text of permitting legislation that he's hoping to attach to a must-pass government funding package will be released Wednesday ahead of a potential vote next week. The Senate Democratic leadership and President Joe Biden agreed to give Manchin a vote on the permitting changes in exchange for the oil and gas ally's support for the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act.

Manchin complained to reporters Tuesday that his permitting proposal—which aims to accelerate environmental reviews of fossil fuel projects such as the Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline—is coming under fire from both progressive climate champions such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Republicans eager to deny Manchin and the Democratic Party any legislative wins, even if they back the specific policies.

"It's like a revenge politics," said Manchin, the top recipient of oil and gas money in Congress. "Basically revenge towards one person: Me."

On Twitter, Sanders pushed back against Manchin's comment and said that "defeating the Big Oil side deal is not about revenge."

"It's about whether we will stand with 650 environmental and civil rights organizations who understand that the future of the planet is with renewable energy and energy efficiency not approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline," Sanders wrote. "The Mountain Valley Pipeline would generate emissions equivalent to 37 coal plants or putting 27 million more cars on the road."

"It's hard for me to understand why anyone concerned about climate change would consider voting to approve such a dirty and dangerous fracked gas pipeline," he added.

Manchin insists that permitting changes would carry benefits for both fossil fuel projects and renewable energy development, but climate campaigners and a growing number of Democratic lawmakers warn the plan laid out in draft legislative language would weaken bedrock environmental laws and endanger communities in the paths of pipelines and other polluting fossil fuel infrastructure.

Sanders tweeted Tuesday that "the Big Oil side deal requires the president to prioritize 25 energy projects for expedited environmental reviews."

"Of those, 19 could be dirty fossil fuel or mining projects and ZERO are required to be renewable energy projects that would reduce emissions," the Vermont senator wrote. "That is unacceptable."

In a Monday letter to Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Tom Carper (D-Del.)—the founding members of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus—a coalition of nearly 80 frontline organizations and climate advocacy groups called on the trio to reject Manchin's "pernicious" permitting legislation and any amended versions.

"We firmly believe that nothing can improve a bill that would deregulate landmark environmental laws like [the National Environmental Policy Act] and [the Clean Water Act]," the letter reads.

A floor fight over the permitting reforms could come as soon as next week, when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is expected to attach the Manchin-backed proposal to a continuing resolution that must pass by September 30 to avert a government shutdown.

Survey data released Monday by Data for Progress shows that 59% of likely U.S. voters believe that "lawmakers should consider permitting legislation as a standalone bill, and separate it from a must-pass government spending package."

Thus far, just one member of the Senate Democratic caucus—Sanders—has vowed to vote against any continuing resolution that includes fossil fuel-friendly permitting reforms.

On the House side, 77 Democrats have warned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) not to allow the inclusion of permitting reforms in the continuing resolution—but only Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) has pledged to vote no if the "dirty deal" ultimately ends up in the package.

"If we were to pass this side deal, it would mean more plants like that harming Black and Brown communities, putting pollution in the air where kids can't be in their backyards," Khanna told The Young Turks earlier this month. "We're not just talking about some abstract policy here. We're talking about allowing refineries, fossil fuel projects, and heavy industry to destroy neighborhoods."

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