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Jeff Merkley

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) questions U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore during a hearing in Washington, D.C. on May 4, 2022. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

'More of This!' Merkley Leads Senate Demand for Separate Vote on Manchin Deal

"Thank you to these senators for their solidarity with frontline communities against more fossil fuel pollution!" said one activist.

Jessica Corbett

Environmental justice campaigners on Thursday welcomed a letter from eight senators demanding separate votes on a government funding resolution and Sen. Joe Manchin's fossil fuel-friendly federal permitting bill.

"Such important issues should be examined through detailed committee consideration and a robust floor debate separate from the urgent need to see that the government stays open."

The letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—who made a backroom deal with Manchin (D-W.Va.) on permitting reform to pass the Inflation Reduction Act—echoed a message that dozens of Democrats sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week.

The new call, spearheaded by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), came a day after Manchin unveiled the full text of his Energy Independence and Security Act, which would restrict frontline communities' input on fossil fuel projects and endorse the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).

"We need more of this!" tweeted the People vs. Fossil Fuels coalition, sharing the letter. "Thank you to everyone who has signed below!"

Adrien Salazar of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance similarly said, "Thank you to these senators for their solidarity with frontline communities against more fossil fuel pollution!"

The other signatories are Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

"I fight for environmental justice, not fast-tracking fossil fuels," Markey said Thursday. "Don't make us choose between keeping the government open and keeping communities' rights."

Earlier this week, nearly 80 organizations had pressured Booker, Duckworth, and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.)—the founding members of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus—to reject Manchin's "pernicious" bill.

Some of the senators' constituents on Thursday thanked them for signing on to Merkley's letter while residents of other states called on their elected officials to join the fight against the "dirty deal."

Noting the "really strong set of powerful senators on this letter," Pete Sikora of New York Communities for Change said that "it's no good to push a climate and community-wrecking deal through for Manchin and oil and gas companies," urging Schumer to "drop it."

Rather thing heeding the mounting calls to decouple Manchin's bill from the continuing resolution that Congress must pass before the end of the month to prevent a government shutdown, Schumer on Thursday started the process to hold a vote next Tuesday.

Pelosi on Thursday also reaffirmed her support for Manchin's measure. "I said I support it, yes. I said that right from the start," she said, according to The Hill. "There's no question."

While Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who introduced the GOP's permit proposal, is now backing Manchin's version—a signal that there may ultimately be enough Republican support to push it through despite left-wing opposition—Pelosi also suggested that Democratic leaders may consider voting on "clean" funding legislation if necessary.

"Let's see what happens in the Senate," the speaker said, "and then we will deal with what we have to do in the House."

Merkley's letter highlights that environmental justice communities vehemently oppose Manchin's proposal—which activists have made clear with a mass mobilization in the nation's capital earlier this month and by getting arrested Thursday on Capitol Hill.

"For many years, siting decisions for big infrastructure projects have essentially prioritized the perceived societal benefits of fossil energy over the very real costs disproportionately borne by communities of color, low-income communities, and others who have traditionally been marginalized," the letter points out.

"The result has been the destruction of homes and neighborhoods, lost wealth in those communities, long-lasting health consequences, and premature deaths," the letter continues. "Environmental justice advocates are pushing policymakers to remedy our nation's failure to take the input of environmental justice communities more seriously, but there is far more work for us to do. We share the concerns of frontline communities and communities of color that the proposed permitting reforms take us in the wrong direction."

The senators wrote:

Congressional approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, weakening of the National Environmental Policy Act, and weakening of states' ability to protect water quality under the Clean Water Act will limit public input and lead to additional pollution, disproportionately impacting people who are already facing direct harm. We also share the environmental justice community's concerns that the proposed reforms could reduce the ability of affected stakeholders and state, federal, and tribal governments from thoroughly analyzing proposed projects and undermine judicial review. Given our country's history of environmental inequity, any changes to the permitting processes should strengthen—not steamroll over—public participation and add protections for frontline communities.

"The environmental justice community is warranted in their belief that altering policies that shape how energy projects are considered will have profound implications for their health, prosperity, well-being, and overall quality of life," the senators argued. "We agree, and believe such important issues should be examined through detailed committee consideration and a robust floor debate separate from the urgent need to see that the government stays open."

The lawmakers' letter was released hours after more than 400 scientists and health experts delivered their own letter to Schumer and Pelosi, imploring the top congressional Democrats to "please find the courage" to "untether this wrongheaded legislation from the continuing resolution and prevent it from moving forward."

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