Dec 15, 2022
Climate groups and advocates voiced anger Thursday after President Joe Biden reiterated his support for industry-backed permitting changes pushed by Sen. Joe Manchin that would fast-track oil and gas projects, undercut bedrock environmental protections, and drown out the voices of frontline communities harmed by polluting infrastructure.
In a statement released ahead of a possible Thursday vote on Manchin's legislation--which Democratic leaders are attempting to add to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) despite opposition from rank-and-file lawmakers and the climate movement--Biden said he supports the West Virginia Democrat's "permitting reform proposal as a way to cut Americans' energy bills, promote U.S. energy security, and boost our ability to get energy projects built and connected to the grid."
"Senator Manchin's legislation is an important step toward unlocking the potential of these new energy projects to cut consumer costs and spur good-paying jobs," the president continued. "It is critical to improve the permitting process so we can produce and deliver energy to consumers in all parts of the country."
Biden's statement did nothing to grapple with the many critiques that climate activists and experts have leveled against Manchin's bill, nor did it mention that the legislation would secure approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline--a project with an estimated emissions impact equivalent to 23 coal plants or 19 million passenger vehicles.
"Disgraceful betrayal of environmental justice promises by President Biden," Basav Sen, director of the Climate Justice Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, tweeted in response to Biden's statement.
"Forget his rhetoric," Sen wrote. "In practice, he's showing us he's (at best) stuck in the Obama administration's disastrous 'all of the above' mindset or, worse still, actively on the side of polluters."
The Green New Deal Network noted that Manchin's proposed changes to permitting rules and environmental regulations such as the Clean Water Act "would expedite the creation of dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure in communities already reeling from heavy pollution and refinery disasters."
"Biden owes his midterm victories to these same communities," the coalition added. "Why is he abandoning them now?"
\u201c.@POTUS backing a coal baron\u2019s dirty deal with the fossil fuel industry is a clear sign you\u2019ve lost touch with the communities that got you elected. Manchin\u2019s provisions will expand fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when you should be stopping extraction & starting to phaseout\u201d— Molly Morabito \ud83c\udf05 (@Molly Morabito \ud83c\udf05) 1671125085
Biden's statement came two days after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters he would force a vote on adding Manchin's plan as an amendment to the NDAA, even though it's far from clear the permitting proposal has enough bipartisan support to pass. Earlier this year, Schumer agreed to hold a vote on a permitting overhaul in exchange for Manchin's support for the Inflation Reduction Act, which included major investments in renewable energy development.
As E&E Newsreported earlier this week, "Progressives are furious that Democrats would consider legislation to speed permits for fossil fuel projects, while Republicans oppose Manchin's attempt to give the federal government more power over transmission permitting."
"Manchin unveiled a new version of his legislation last week that attempted to cater to Republican votes by, among other things, tossing out the transmission provision they had opposed," the outlet continued. "In doing so, he may have alienated climate hawks in his own party who argue that building massive amounts of new power lines is key to the energy transition."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who helped lead the pressure campaign that forced Manchin to withdraw his legislation in September, wrote on Twitter Thursday that he agrees "with the 750 environmental and civil rights groups who have told us that given the threat of climate change, it would be unacceptable to build a new fracked gas pipeline and expand fossil fuel extraction across the country."
"I'm opposed to Sen. Manchin's Big Oil Side Deal," Sanders added.
Manchin's bill also faces opposition from dozens of House Democrats.
"We all have a stake in tackling the climate crisis," Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) tweeted earlier this month. "It's critical we listen to communities hit hardest."
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