'We Will Never Stop Fighting': Pipeline Opponents Galvanized as Congress Clears Way for Dirty Project
"By voting for a dirty deal that fast-tracks the Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline and guts bedrock environmental laws, Congress betrayed people and the planet," said one campaigner.
After thwarting a last-minute bid to strip out language mandating approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the U.S. Senate late Thursday passed legislation that would raise the debt limit and avert a default.
But congressional Republicans ensured that preventing an economic catastrophe would come at a significant cost for vulnerable people and communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis—and the Biden White House ultimately acceded to some of the GOP hostage-takers' demands, declining to use its executive authority to continue paying the nation's bills.
The legislation that the Senate approved by a vote of 63 to 36 could put 750,000 older adults at risk of losing federal nutrition aid, deepening the nation's hunger crisis. It also enshrines an end to the student loan payment pause before the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on the Biden administration's student debt cancellation plan.
Most alarming, from the perspective of climate campaigners, is the measure's provisions weakening the bedrock National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and expediting construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile fracked gas project that could have the emissions impact of dozens of new coal-fired power plants.
"These provisions are a win for polluters, and the elected officials in their pocket," said Alice Madden, policy and political director at Greenpeace USA.
One of the fossil fuel industry's top allies in Congress, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), reportedly helped Republicans push the White House to include the Mountain Valley Pipeline language in the final legislation.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, a state that the Mountain Valley Pipeline would run through, put forth an amendment that aimed to strike the pipeline approval language. But his effort fell short on Thursday, with 20 Democrats and two Independents—Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Angus King of Maine—joining Republicans in voting down the amendment.
A separate amendment from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) targeting the NEPA provisions, which would allow for speedier construction of fossil fuel projects by imposing new restrictions on the environmental review process, didn't get a vote.
\u201cThere is underpublicized, outrageous language in the debt ceiling bill that does deep damage to America's bedrock environmental law, including letting corporations write their own environmental impact statements.\n\nI'm filing an amendment to focus attention on this travesty.\u201d— Senator Jeff Merkley (@Senator Jeff Merkley) 1685654021
"By voting for a dirty deal that fast-tracks the Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline and guts bedrock environmental laws, Congress betrayed people and the planet," said Collin Rees, U.S. program manager at Oil Change International. "These provisions, which are totally unrelated to the national debt, will turn historically underserved and environmental justice communities into sacrifice zones."
“We applaud the bold leaders in Congress who voted to strip the Mountain Valley Pipeline from the Fiscal Responsibility Act and put people over polluters," Rees said. "We will continue to stand with frontline communities opposing this dirty project, and we will not back down. This pipeline will not be built."
Denali Nalamalapu, communications director of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Coalition, echoed that message.
"Our global movement to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline is stronger than ever," said Nalamalapu. "While we are outraged and devastated in this unprecedented moment, we will never stop fighting this unfinished, unnecessary, and unwanted project. Our hearts are broken but our bonds are strong."
"The pipeline itself is an assault against a sustainable planet. We must recognize that fossil gas is just as damaging as coal. Pretending otherwise is leading us to climate catastrophe."
The Mountain Valley Pipeline has been tied up in litigation for years, delaying construction as the project's owners struggle to obtain the permits necessary to run the fracked gas infrastructure through waterways and wetlands. Last month, as Common Dreamsreported, the Biden administration handed the pipeline's backers a huge victory by granting approval for the project to cross the Jefferson National Forest.
The debt ceiling legislation, formally titled the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, would run roughshod over local and national opposition to the pipeline, ordering federal agencies to issue all permits necessary for the project's completion.
The bill, which now heads to President Joe Biden's desk, also states that "no court shall have jurisdiction to review any action taken" by federal agencies to clear the way for the pipeline—and any dispute over that provision will be under the "exclusive jurisdiction" of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
"This profoundly undermines the integrity of our judiciary," Merkley said Thursday. "For Congress to—by law—move a court case from one jurisdiction to another, to provide a special favor to a powerful corporation, is fundamentally corrupt. This is a line we should never cross."
"The pipeline itself is an assault against a sustainable planet," the senator added. "We must recognize that fossil gas is just as damaging as coal. Pretending otherwise is leading us to climate catastrophe."
In the wake of Thursday's vote, climate advocates are planning a June 8 rally in front of the White House to demand that Biden do everything in his power to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
"By backing Manchin's Dirty Deal, the Biden administration has signaled they are willing to sacrifice Appalachians for their own political gain," organizers said. "This is Biden's pipeline. He can stop MVP just like he stopped Keystone XL. He can reclaim his climate legacy by stopping all new fossil fuel projects."