Sen. Joe Manchin in a tuxedo

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) arrives for the 45th Kennedy Center Honors at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., on December 4, 2022. (Photo: Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Groups Warn Pelosi, Schumer Against Allowing Manchin 'Dirty Deal' in Pentagon Spending Bill

"This obvious fossil fuel giveaway would devastate communities and set back efforts to avoid a climate catastrophe," said one campaigner.

A broad coalition of environmentalists, public health campaigners, and progressive advocacy organizations on Monday issued a stern warning to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not to include the so-called "dirty deal" on energy project permitting reforms in the mammoth military spending bill set to roll through Congress this month.

"Every lawmaker who is accountable to their constituents, especially those facing the most severe environmental injustices, must do all in their power to block this bill and all future attempts to risk our lives for a profit."

In a letter signed by more than 750 groups collectively representing millions of American constituents, the coalition calls on Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Pelosi (D-Calif.) to "unequivocally reject any effort to promote fossil fuels, advance unproven technologies, and weaken our core environmental laws" as it urges the two Democratic leaders to "stand with the communities who continue to bear the brunt of harm from fossil fuels" and act in ways "to prevent wholesale climate disaster."

Kept out of a must-pass stopgap funding bill in September, the permitting reform package is the darling of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has tried to force the proposal through on several occasions as part of his agreement earlier this year to support the watered-down Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that passed both chambers of Congress and was signed into law by President Joe Biden. Since its earlier defeats, Manchin now wants to use the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to force it through despite widespread opposition from expert critics, most members of his own Democratic Party, and outside campaigners.

On Sunday, The Washington Postreported--citing two people who requested anonymity to "describe private conversations"--that Pelosi "has been in talks with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) about attaching a version of Manchin's permitting bill" to the NDAA.

According to the Post, the text of the NDAA with the controversial permitting reforms included could be released as early as Monday, though the sources cited in the reporting indicated the situation remains fluid and the legislative plans were "subject to change" prior to any vote.

While Manchin's push for permitting reforms was previously defeated, its possible inclusion in the massive military spending bill, also seen as must-pass legislation, has outraged environmentalists and climate campaigners who argue that the nation must end investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure--including the Mountain Valley Pipeline which would run through West Virginia--in order to make way for the renewable energy transition necessary to stave off the worst impacts of rising global temperatures.

"Manchin's dirty deal is just as toxic and dangerous as before," said Gaby Sarri-Tobar, energy justice campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, which spearheaded the letter. "This obvious fossil fuel giveaway would devastate communities and set back efforts to avoid a climate catastrophe. Especially after the administration's support of phasing down fossil fuels at the global climate conference, President Biden and Congress have to stop pandering to one senator's climate-killing agenda and reject any attempts to tack this poison pill to must-pass legislation."

Climate campaigners worldwide decried the failure of the U.N.-backed COP27 climate conference in Egypt that concluded last month without new and binding emissions reduction targets, especially for wealthy and high-polluting nations like the United States, where the fossil fuel industry maintains a powerful grip on lawmakers and government policy.

In the letter sent Monday, the groups said: "This fossil fuel wish list associated with the Inflation Reduction Act side deal, the so called Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), is a cruel and direct attack on environmental justice communities and the climate writ large. This legislation would truncate and hollow-out the environmental review process, weaken Tribal consultations, and make it far harder for frontline communities to have their voices heard. It guts bedrock protections in the National Environmental Policy Act and a previous version also gutted the Clean Water Act."

Under no circumstances should Democratic lawmakers feel compelled to honor a deal brokered with Manchin behind closed doors, say campaigners, especially as it represents such a blatant giveaway to the fossil fuel industry and other powerful corporate interests who have bankrolled the senator's political career.

"Once again, the health and dignity of tribal communities across the country are being threatened by the greed of the fossil fuel industry and the elected officials on their payroll," said Dr. Crystal Cavalier-Keck, co-founder of 7 Directions of Service, which also signed the letter.

"We're sick of having to fight to defend the basic bedrock environmental laws that allow our voices to be heard, while the climate crisis proliferates," Cavalier-Keck continued. "Every lawmaker who is accountable to their constituents, especially those facing the most severe environmental injustices, must do all in their power to block this bill and all future attempts to risk our lives for a profit."

Donna Chavis of Friends of the Earth said over the weekend that elected lawmakers in Congress "must act right now to kill this dirty deal for good." She warned that "further silencing the voices most impacted by the climate crisis would erase the Biden administration's positive steps forward on environmental justice."

Campaigners like Jim Walsh, who serves as policy director at Food & Water Watch, vowed that opponents of the permitting deal would not rest in the fight to see the Manchin proposal--and others like it--defeated.

"Manchin's proposal serves the interests of the dirty energy companies that have supported his political career," Walsh said. "We will continue to oppose any schemes that incentivize fossil fuel expansion, undercut environmental and democratic protections, and sacrifice communities to the interests of corporate polluters."

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