U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speaks in Washington, D.C. on December 13, 2022.
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speaks in Washington, D.C. on December 13, 2022.
(Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden Admin Further Endorses Disastrous MVP While Claiming to Support Environmental Justice

"The Biden administration is showing its two faces... and it's a bad look," said one climate justice advocate.

Climate advocates on Monday denounced the "hypocrisy" of the Biden administration, which doubled down on the White House's push for the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline late last week, just as President Joe Biden was pledging a renewed commitment to environmental justice.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Friday, reiterating the administration's support for the 303-mile natural gas pipeline stretching across West Virginia and Virginia. The $6.6 billion project by Equitrans Midstream Corporation was first proposed in 2015 and approved by FERC in 2017, but a number of legal challenges have kept it from being completed.

The energy secretary wrote to the four FERC commissioners that while the panel has already "completed its regulatory authorizations for the MVP project," the White House requests that "if there is any further commission-related action on this project, it proceeds expeditiously."

"Natural gas—and the infrastructure, such as MVP, that supports its delivery and use—can play an important role as part of the clean energy transition," added Granholm. "As extreme weather events continue to strain the U.S. energy system, adequate pipeline and transmission capacity is critical to maintaining energy reliability, availability, and security."

"Secretary Granholm's letter is an environmental justice disgrace that arrived hand-in-hand with Biden's environmental justice executive order."

While Granholm presented the quick completion of the project as part of the solution to "extreme weather events" that scientists have linked to the climate crisis, advocates across the Appalachian region and the U.S. have for years warned that the MVP will only contribute to the climate emergency as it would likely cause leakage of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that can trap about 87 times more heat than carbon dioxide in its first two decades in the atmosphere.

The companies behind the pipeline construction have also committed "at least 46 narrative water quality standards violations," Bloomberg Law reported earlier this month, and have violated its construction permit at least 139 times in two years.

The local grassroots group Appalachian Voices has warned that in addition to exacerbating the climate emergency through methane emissions, the MVP would endanger nearby communities, as the "steep, unstable slopes" it's being built on make it susceptible to landslides and pipe ruptures.

"Explosions happened on two separate pipelines in similar terrain in 2018," said the group, adding, "The MVP would disproportionately impact low-income communities, elderly residents, and Indigenous sites."

Granholm sent the letter to FERC on the same day that Biden signed an executive order at the White House pledging to coordinate "the implementation of environmental justice policy across the federal government." He also opened the Office of Environmental Justice, tasked with ensuring the government recognizes and mitigates the disproportionate impacts that pollution and the climate emergency have on low-income communities, Indigenous tribes, and people of color.

The irony of Granholm's timing was not lost on environmental justice advocates, who had reacted to Friday's announcement with cautious optimism.

"The Biden administration is showing its two faces... and it's a bad look," Grace Tuttle, advocacy director of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Coalition said on Monday. "Secretary Granholm's letter is an environmental justice disgrace that arrived hand-in-hand with Biden's environmental justice executive order. This letter to FERC reinforces the myth that the MVP would bolster national security and snubs frontline communities calling for a just transition off of fossil fuels."

"Biden got his job by campaigning on climate but the bulk of his actions show a shocking failure to safeguard the future of the American people," Tuttle added.

Granholm's letter came weeks after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously struck down a key water permit for the project, saying the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's justification for issuing the permit was "deficient." The ruling is expected to delay the project's completion by at least a year.

Despite this finding, Granholm wrote on Friday that "while the [U.S. Department of Energy] takes no position regarding the outstanding agency actions required under federal or state law related to the construction of the MVP project, nor on any pending litigation, we submit the view that the MVP project will enhance the nation's critical infrastructure for energy and national security."

The White House has joined right-wing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and the Republican Party in pushing for the completion of the MVP, despite the project's clean water violations and other threats to public health and safety.

Despite Biden's executive action on Friday, said Oil Change International, "if the Biden administration was listening to environmental justice communities and climate science, this project would already be dead."

"There is nothing natural about the fracked gas that would be transported through the Mountain Valley Pipeline, locking us and our communities into decades of reliance on risky fossil fuels," said Patrick Grenter, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign. "What we should be focusing on is transitioning into clean sustainable energy that would maintain energy reliability and security."

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