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President Joe Biden hands Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) a pen on August 16, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

'We'll Beat You Again,' Say Climate Advocates as Biden Eyes New Path for Manchin's Dirty Deal

"Shame on President Biden and the White House for doubling down on environmental deregulation to benefit dirty industry," said one campaigner.

Jake Johnson

Sen. Joe Manchin may have pulled the plug on efforts to include his dirty permitting deal in must-pass government funding legislation, but the Biden White House said late Tuesday that it intends to seek out another "vehicle" to pass the gift to the fossil fuel industry, prompting climate advocates to vow to tank the measure again if necessary.

In a statement after Manchin (D-W.Va.) asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to remove the permitting overhaul from the government funding bill, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre made clear that President Joe Biden doesn't intend to let the measure die despite fresh warnings over its potentially disastrous emissions impacts.

"The fight is not over, but it should now be crystal clear that Congress needs to listen to and meaningfully engage impacted communities."

"The president supports Senator Manchin's plan because it is necessary for our energy security, and to make more clean energy available to the American people," Jean-Pierre said. "We will continue to work with him to find a vehicle to bring this bill to the floor and get it passed and to the president's desk."

Climate groups reacted with anger to Biden's insistence on a path forward for the proposed permitting overhaul, which would weaken bedrock environmental laws and fast-track dirty energy projects such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a top priority of Manchin and his fossil fuel industry donors.

"Shame on President Biden and the White House for doubling down on environmental deregulation to benefit dirty industry, even after a defeat they deserved," tweeted Basav Sen, director of the Climate Justice Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. "Our grassroots movement power defeated you once. We'll beat you again."

During a press call on Wednesday, climate campaigners stressed that continued resolve will be necessary to prevent a revival of Manchin's proposed permitting overhaul, particularly as reports suggest Democratic leaders could try to attach the measure to an annual Pentagon funding bill ahead of the November midterms.

"The fight is not over, but it should now be crystal clear that Congress needs to listen to and meaningfully engage impacted communities," said Stephen Schima, senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice.

Lauren Maunus, advocacy director at the youth-led Sunrise Movement, said on the call that "the last thing" Biden should do is "further appease one coal baron in Washington and perpetuate more climate disaster through expanding fossil fuels."

"As we're six weeks out from the midterms election, voters like myself need to see Biden deliver further action on climate," Maunus added. "We need to see him declare a climate emergency and use his full power to prevent these record-strength hurricanes from further destroying our homes."

Manchin and Schumer's scheme to expedite the passage of permitting reforms by attaching them to government funding legislation collapsed after it became clear that there weren't enough Republican votes to make up for opposition among members of the Democratic caucus, spearheaded by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

In a statement late Tuesday, Sanders credited "the more than 650 environmental groups and community organizations who made clear that, in the midst of the horrific climate crisis that we face, the last thing we need is a side deal which would build more pipelines and fossil fuel projects that would have substantially increased carbon emissions."

With a number of Democratic caucus members in the House and Senate opposed to Manchin's permitting plan on climate grounds, its future prospects are highly uncertain.

One path forward could involve securing enough GOP support to nullify Democratic opposition, an effort that would likely entail making the plan even more friendly to the fossil fuel industry—something more along the lines of what Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) has proposed.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who whipped his members against Manchin's proposal, has voiced support for Capito's legislation, calling it "a strong, robust package that would actually move the ball forward."

The next opportunity for Manchin to ram through permitting reforms as part of a separate package could be the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a bloated Pentagon funding bill that typically sails through both chambers of Congress each year with relatively little opposition.

"The NDAA is still out there," Capito told reporters Tuesday.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a supporter of Manchin's legislation, also said Tuesday that he sees the NDAA as the "most likely next viable vehicle" for permitting reforms.

With the Senate expected to return to session after an early-October recess to vote on the NDAA, Food and Water Watch policy director Jim Walsh warned that a bipartisan permitting deal "will be even worse than what Manchin was proposing."

"They are specifically eyeing the defense spending bill," he added, "bringing fossil fuel politics into national defense."

The Democratic leadership could also opt for a standalone vote on permitting reforms, which rank-and-file lawmakers have been demanding for weeks.

Mary Small, national advocacy director at the progressive advocacy group Indivisible, said Tuesday that "given the intense debate over the provisions in the deal, we look forward to debating the merits of this deal in a standalone vote."

"In the wake of this win and over the next few months, we urge leadership to focus on a winning legislative agenda that unifies the Democratic caucus," said Small. "As we have seen with this fight, attaching controversial policies to must-pass vehicles is a recipe for infighting and failure."

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