Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, speaks during a hearing on March 30, 2022. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Passing Manchin Deal Is the 'Last Thing Congress Should Do,' Says Sanders

The senator is circulating a "dear colleague" letter arguing that it's time for lawmakers "to tell the fossil fuel industry that their short-term profits are not more important than the future of our planet."

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday began circulating a letter to other lawmakers against Sen. Joe Manchin's federal permitting proposal, warning that it would fast-track "some of the largest and dirtiest fossil fuel projects in America each and every year."

"This deal is clearly intended to benefit the fossil fuel industry and will not meaningfully expedite the deployment of renewable energy."

Grassroots and congressional opposition has been building since Manchin (D-W.Va.) struck a deal with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who plans to add the Energy Independence and Security Act to a continuing resolution that must pass this month to prevent a government shutdown.

Sanders (I-Vt.)--already an outspoken critic of the "dirty side deal"--joined seven other senators Thursday in calling on Schumer to hold separate votes for the funding resolution and Manchin's energy bill. His new "dear colleague" letter goes further.

"At a time when climate change is already causing devastating harm to people in the United States and throughout the world," Sanders wrote, "the last thing Congress should do is pass the disastrous side deal recently introduced by Sen. Manchin to make it easier for the fossil fuel industry to destroy the planet and pollute the environment."

"Proponents of this side deal claim that 'streamlining' environmental permitting laws will speed up deployment of renewable energy and transmission infrastructure," he continued. "In reality, this deal is clearly intended to benefit the fossil fuel industry and will not meaningfully expedite the deployment of renewable energy."

Manchin's proposal not only would "represent the most significant loss of protections under the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in the modern history of America," the letter notes, it would also force the president to designate 25 energy projects for priority federal review as well as "require federal agencies to take 'all necessary actions' to permit the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline within 30 days of passage."

In addition to citing warnings about the bill's provisions from the green groups Center for Biological Diversity and Oil Change International, Sanders highlighted that over 400 scientists and health professionals called for decoupling the funding resolution and Manchin's proposal in a Thursday letter to Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

As the senator pointed out, those experts wrote to the top Democrats in Congress:

We have heard you affirm the necessity of science for policymaking and the importance of listening to scientists for guidance. We are those scientists. And we are the doctors and nurses who take care of those harmed by this unfolding crisis. Speaking together, we urge you in the strongest possible terms to reject this attempt to force through legislation that weakens our bedrock environmental laws and fast-tracks ill-conceived fossil fuel ventures.

Sanders also argued that "any attempt to reform the permitting process must be done through regular order, not behind closed doors. It should be the subject of hearings that receive input from climate scientists, environmental experts, and the communities impacted by the legislation. It should not be attached to must-pass legislation with no public scrutiny."

Anticipating a vote on a resolution that includes Manchin's bill next week, Sanders wrote that "we can listen to the fossil fuel industry and climate deniers who are spending huge amounts of money on lobbying and campaign contributions to pass this side deal. Or we can listen to the scientists and the environmental community who are telling us loudly and clearly to reject it."

"In my view, the time has come for Congress to tell the fossil fuel industry that their short-term profits are not more important than the future of our planet," the two-time Democratic presidential candidate concluded. "I hope you will join me in opposing this deal."

While more than six dozen House Democrats have made clear to Pelosi that they also want Manchin's permitting bill separated from the continuing resolution, it is possible that Republicans in both chambers could help Democratic leaders pass the measure next week.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who introduced the GOP's even more fossil fuel-friendly permit proposal, is now reportedly suporting the right-wing Democrat's legislation. However, some Republicans are skeptical of its chances, especially given that Manchin agreed to help pass the Inflation Reduction Act in exchange for Schumer pushing his permit bill.

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