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With senators mired in an apparently endless debate over their filibuster rule, Common Cause on Tuesday urged a federal appeals court to declare the rule and its 60-vote requirement for legislative action unconstitutional.
In a brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the non-profit "citizens lobby" argued that the filibuster rule's 60-vote provision allows a minority of senators to nullify votes and kill legislation passed by the entire House of Representatives, with disastrous results for individuals and groups that would be impacted by the bills involved.
"As the Senate continues to wrangle over the so-called 'nuclear option,' we are asking the federal courts to declare that the Senate's 60-vote filibuster rule is inconsistent with the Constitution," said Stephen Spaulding, Common Cause's staff counsel. "The framers would be appalled by a Senate that requires 60-votes for every item of legislative business and confirmation of nominees. And with the Senate hamstrung by its own rules, we have no choice but to ask the courts to settle this question, once and for all."
Common Cause v. Biden, was filed in May 2012 by Common Cause, four members of the House and three people who would have a path to American citizenship opened by the DREAM Act, a House-passed bill blocked by filibustering senators. A lower court dismissed the litigation in December on the grounds that it was "powerless" to address the underlying question of law.
"The Senate may have the right to adopt its own rules, but we have appealed because Supreme Court case law is clear the Senate's rules cannot conflict with other provisions of the Constitution," Spaulding said. The Common Cause brief includes citations to several cases which make it clear that legislators have standing to sue because the filibuster works to nullify the votes they cast in the House, he added.
After failing to adopt meaningful filibuster reform at the beginning of this Congress, the Senate has been mired in gridlock over key presidential appointments, including nominations to the National Labor Relations Board, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the D.C. Circuit Court, and the Department of Labor. The filibuster rule also has blocked gun violence prevention legislation proposed in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, legislation that enjoyed broad majority support but failed to garner 60 votes.
Spaulding noted that a recent decision by the D.C. Circuit has significantly narrowed the President's ability to utilize his recess appointment powers, further strengthening the hand of filibustering Senators intent on blocking future nominations.
"Our government is being held hostage by a minority of the Senate. The Constitution is clear when a supermajority is required: overriding presidential vetoes and ratifying treaties, for example. Passing legislation and confirming nominees do not," he said.
The lead attorney on the litigation is Emmet Bondurant, member of the Common Cause National Governing Board and founding partner of Bondurant, Mixon & Elmore LLP of Atlanta, GA.
Plaintiff-appellants are Common Cause, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), Erika Andiola (DREAM Act plaintiff), Caesar Vargas (DREAM Act plaintiff), and Celso Mireles (DREAM Act plaintiff). Defendants are officers of the Senate defending the litigation in their official capacity.
The case is #12-5412 in the court's files.
Common Cause is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.(202) 833-1200
"We're taking the streets to shut it down and send the message to Sen. Schumer that he must STOP the #DirtyDeal being included in the debt ceiling bill!"
As progressives excoriated President Joe Biden's debt ceiling deal with Republican lawmakers over "polluter giveaways" including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, activists rallied outside Sen. Chuck Schumer's Brooklyn home on Tuesday evening with a message for the majority leader: "Stop the dirty pipeline deal, or we shut down your block."
The protesters—led by Climate Defiance and backed by Food & Water Watch, Climate Defenders, Climate Families NYC, New York Communities for Change (NYCC), and others—chanted messages including "Schumer, stop the dirty deal" as they marched in the Park Slope neighborhood where he lives.
"Schumer is on the cusp of making a deal with the devil, stripping down our bedrock environmental laws and review processes for the Sisyphean task of trying to appease fossil fuel oligarch [Senate Energy Committee Chair] Joe Manchin," the rally's organizers said in a statement published on Action Network. "This is not ok!"
\u201cNew Yorkers taking the street outside @SenSchumer\u2019s Brooklyn apartment now. Risking arrest to demand he stop the dirty deal giveaway to the oil and gas companies.\n\nNo MVP! No Dirty Deal!\u201d— Alex Beauchamp (@Alex Beauchamp) 1685484102
The group Indivisible tweeted: "We're taking the streets to shut it down and send the message to Sen. Schumer that he must STOP the #DirtyDeal being included in the debt ceiling bill! It's time to stop building fossil fuel infrastructure and that means no more pipelines. Chuck, stop appeasing Manchin!"
While OpenSecrets.org lists Manchin (D-W.Va.) as the biggest congressional recipient of fossil fuel campaign donations during the 2021-22 election cycle, The New Republicreported last September that Schumer (D-N.Y.) took more donations than Manchin from NextEra Capital Holdings, one of the companies behind the $6.6 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).
\u201cOne of the companies behind the pipeline, NextEra Energy,\u00a0is a major donor\u00a0to Mr. Schumer & Mr. Manchin. \n\nIn 2022, NextEra\u2019s employees and political action committees gave $302,600 to Mr. Schumer and $60,350 to Mr. Manchin, according to OpenSecrets data.\n\nhttps://t.co/upVyuiCNzU\u201d— OpenSecrets.org (@OpenSecrets.org) 1685488230
The debt ceiling bill states that "Congress hereby finds and declares that the timely completion of construction and operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is required in the national interest."
Manchin, whose family is heavily invested in fossil fuels, is a staunch booster of the MVP, as is the state's other U.S. senator, Republican Shelley Moore Capito. Manchin has been trying—so far without success—to gain congressional approval of the project since early last year. Last December, he tried to attach what was also being described as a "zombie deal" to the $858 billion military spending package. It was Manchin's third time floating the measure.
The organizers of Tuesday's protest called the MVP an "ecocidal project" that "would transport 2 billion cubic feet of fracked gas every single day."
"It would have the same climate impact as multiple dozens of brand-new coal plants," the groups warned. "We cannot allow Chuck Schumer to sell out our future to Joe Manchin. And we won't."
The MVP's inclusion in the bill to avoid a first-ever U.S. default does not mean the pipeline will ultimately be part of the package. On Tuesday, six House Democrats from Virginia—Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, Jennifer McClellan, Bobby Scott, Abigail Spanberger, and Jennifer Wexton—introduced an amendment that would strip MVP approval from the legislation.
"A moratorium on dangerous and underregulated carbon dioxide pipelines is essential to protect communities and the environment," said one campaigner.
More than 150 climate and other advocacy groups on Tuesday urged U.S. President Joe Biden to block authorization of all new carbon dioxide pipelines—which experts say increase emissions while posing serious safety risks due largely to underregulation—until adequate safety rules are enacted.
"We call on you to issue an executive order putting a moratorium on all federal permits for CO2 pipelines and related infrastructure, and urging states to do the same until the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) finalizes robust new safety regulations that protect communities and the environment," the coalition wrote in a letter to the president.
"PHMSA is planning to propose revised regulations in the fall of 2024, in response to a rupture of a pipeline transporting CO2 in Satartia, Mississippi that hospitalized residents and posed significant challenges for first responders who were ill-equipped to respond to such an emergency," the signers wrote. "However, we are facing a massive build-out of CO2 pipelines now; in the absence of updated federal regulations, our communities face the risk of much larger and more devastating ruptures."
\u201cWe were proud to join over 150 other groups last week on a letter calling for a moratorium on CO2 pipelines. \n\nVia @foodandwater: https://t.co/e3Xs7LB6sf\u201d— Imagine Water Works (@Imagine Water Works) 1685475572
CO2 pipelines are used for carbon capture and storage (CCS), an unproven technology in terms of scalability that coalition member Food & Water Watch has called a "false climate solution" and a "lifeline for the fossil fuel industry."
Experts say that, in addition to emitting harmful chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene, CCS actually contributes to a net increase in emissions.
Carbon dioxide pipelines are also prone to ductile fractures from which massive amounts of CO2—a heavier-than-air asphyxiant that can travel long distances at lethal concentrations—can escape. The 2020 Satartia rupture sent nearly 50 people to the hospital and resulted in the evacuation of hundreds of local residents.
\u201cEver wondered why we say that carbon capture is a fossil fuel industry scam, even though it sounds like a good thing? Now you can learn more about why carbon capture is another lie from the fossil fuel industry!\n\nExplore our new info hub on our website. \u2b07\ufe0f https://t.co/4toQ2CxxSm\u201d— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch) 1685386904
Despite this, the Biden administration's Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month announced new fossil fuel power plant rules that rely heavily on CCS and include plans to build thousands of miles of new CO2 pipelines. Additionally, the bipartisan infrastructure law and Inflation Reduction Act both include billions of dollars for CCS expansion.
"We need President Biden to listen to the growing chorus of voices who are demanding a stop to dirty energy interests' rush to build dangerous and unsafe pipelines to transport CO2," Food & Water Watch policy director Jim Walsh said in a statement. "This industry pipe dream will quickly become a nightmare for communities in the path of these profit-driven schemes that can explode and send plumes of suffocating CO2 for miles."
\u201cCarbon capture is a fossil fuel industry scam that isn\u2019t proven to work at scale \u2013 period. That\u2019s why we need to tell Congress to invest in renewables instead. Will you join us? https://t.co/pdjL7jbwfK\nhttps://t.co/QnyjaS18t6\u201d— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch) 1684796470
"Pipelines to transport CO2 are the key component of the carbon capture scam that uses lies and misinformation to convince the public and policymakers that these dangerous and expensive projects are something other than a money-maker for dirty energy producers," Walsh added.
Maggie Coulter, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, said that "the Biden administration put the cart before the horse by creating huge subsidies for carbon capture and storage before comprehensive regulations are in place."
"A moratorium on dangerous and underregulated carbon dioxide pipelines is essential to protect communities and the environment," Coulter added.
"The commitment from Labour to oppose new fossil fuel developments is a welcome first step, but it needs to come with plans for a just transition to renewable energy," said one advocate.
While welcoming the Labour Party's vow to block new offshore oil and gas drilling if it wins control of the United Kingdom Parliament, climate justice campaigners on Tuesday implored the party to ensure that a shift to clean power is fair to displaced workers.
"The science is clear that to prevent further climate breakdown, we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground," Freya Aitchison, oil and gas campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said in a statement. "The commitment from Labour to oppose new fossil fuel developments is a welcome first step, but it needs to come with plans for a just transition to renewable energy."
On Sunday, an unnamed Labour Party source toldThe Times, "We are against the granting of new licenses for oil and gas in the North Sea." Alluding to a 2022 admission from John Gummer, a Conservative Party MP and chair of the U.K.'s independent Committee on Climate Change, the source said that such licenses "will do nothing to cut bills as the Tories have acknowledged."
"They undermine our energy security and would drive a coach and horses through our climate targets," said the source, who added that "Labour would continue to use existing oil and gas wells over the coming decades and manage them sustainably as we transform the U.K. into a clean energy superpower."
Labour Leader Keir Starmer is expected to formally announce the party's promise in Scotland next month when he unveils a net-zero energy policy blueprint. The Guardian reported Sunday that it "will involve not just a ban on new North Sea oil and gas licenses, but a pledge that any borrowing for investment should be limited to green schemes."
"Setting an end date for the extraction of fossil fuels will allow workers and communities to prepare for this transition."
Labour MP Jonathan Ashworth, shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, confirmed the party's plan. Speaking with Trevor Phillips of Sky News on Sunday, Ashworth said that "what we'll be doing in the coming weeks is outlining how we want to invest in the green jobs of the future to bring bills down, to create a more sustainable energy supply."
"We know we've got to move to more renewable sources of energy," said Ashworth. "It's important for our climate change commitments, but it's also the way in which we can bring energy bills down for consumers."
"This isn't about shutting down what's going on at the moment, we will manage those sustainably," the lawmaker continued.
Although Labour doesn't intend to halt already-approved offshore extraction in most cases, two key exceptions are drilling schemes in the Cambo and Rosebank oil fields, both of which the party vowed to block after Tories greenlighted them, The Guardian noted. The North Sea Transition Authority held another licensing round for fossil fuel exploration projects in January, receiving more than 100 bids and granting new licenses for Cambo as well as the Jackdaw gas field.
"If you stop all new exploration, you are going to have to fill the gap from somewhere and it won't all come from wind," said Ashworth. "We know that but the sums have been done."
"We do need to invest in wind. We need to invest in tidal, we need to invest in nuclear," he added. "We need more sustainable sources of energy supply in order to bring bills down for consumers and actually create jobs in this green transition."
According to Ashworth, "There are hundreds of thousands of jobs that will come online from the transition."
\u201cThe science is clear that to prevent further climate breakdown, we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. \n\nThis must come with the right investment to ensure a massive upscaling of renewables that protects livelihoods and creates decent green jobs.\n\nhttps://t.co/Cvnr8pUsPt\u201d— Friends of the Earth Scotland \ud83c\udf0e (@Friends of the Earth Scotland \ud83c\udf0e) 1685371397
In Aitchison's words, "Starmer rightly recognizes that extracting new oil and gas in the U.K. will not bring down our skyrocketing energy bills—rather, it will cost the U.K. public money through huge loopholes in the windfall tax which incentivize companies to drill for more fossil fuels."
Last August, the U.K. Treasury estimated that the nation's energy firms were on track to enjoy up to £170 billion ($211 billion) in excess profits—defined as the gap between money made now and what would have been expected based on price forecasts prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine—over the next two years.
A 25% windfall tax on oil and gas producers approved last July is expected to raise £5 billion ($6.2 billion) in its first year. However, the existing surtax on excess fossil fuel profits, which lasts through 2025, includes loopholes enabling companies to significantly reduce their tax bill by investing more in oil and gas extraction, something the industry has claimed will increase supply.
But as Aitchison noted, "The majority of oil from U.K. fields is exported and sold to the highest bidder, so increasing our domestic production only benefits the oil companies that are already making record profits."
Aitchison called it "vital" for Labour's announcement to be accompanied by "plans to support workers in the oil and gas industry to transition to jobs in the renewables industry."
In March, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Platform, a London-based social and environmental justice group, publishedOur Power, a report that provides a roadmap for a just energy transition in the North Sea. The plan, backed by a coalition of offshore oil and gas workers, trade unions, and climate groups, is based on surveys of more than 1,000 workers who developed 10 demands to guide a rapid and equitable shift to renewables.
\u201c\ud83d\udc77\ud83d\udc77\u200d\u2640\ufe0fOffshore oil & gas workers have a plan to lead the energy transition. \n\nThey have created 10 demands that will protect jobs, communities and the climate. \n\nWatch and share. \n\nhttps://t.co/xVRgxXtU7N\n#OurPower #JustTransition\u201d— Friends of the Earth Scotland \ud83c\udf0e (@Friends of the Earth Scotland \ud83c\udf0e) 1678088728
"Setting an end date for the extraction of fossil fuels will allow workers and communities to prepare for this transition," Aitchison said Tuesday. "It will provide certainty for the sector, making it clear that investing in renewables is the only choice for our energy future, and enabling workforce planning."
"The coming decade," she added, "must see concerted government intervention and investment to ensure a fast and fair phaseout of fossil fuels and a massive upscaling of renewables that protects livelihoods and creates plentiful decent green jobs."
As The Guardian reported:
The proposal is the latest in a series of Labour pledges over a move towards a greener economy, much of it pushed by Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change secretary.
In 2021, the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, announced the party would invest £28 billion [$34.7 billion] a year in climate crisis-related measures, covering not just green energy but also areas such as home insulation, active travel, and flood defenses.
At last year's Labour conference, Starmer said Labour would set up a publicly owned energy company run on clean U.K. power, to be known as Great British Energy.
The next U.K. general election is scheduled to be held no later than January 28, 2025.