Sep 24, 2022
In 2014 I was notified that a group of fossil fuel corporations wanted to build the 42-inch Mountain Valley Pipeline across my organic farm in rural, southern West Virginia. I had no idea the twist and turn my life would be thrust into. Over the last 8 years, I have witnessed both state and federal agencies try on numerous occasions to short circuit and pervert the very laws and policies that we all depend upon to protect our homes, farms, and communities from devastating environmental destruction. This is a story about social justice and community protection.
Fortunately, the 4th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals has vacated numerous, illegal and faulty permits and stood up for the rule of law. Now my very own representative in the Senate, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), is trying to change the law and gut these bedrock environmental laws. Key among those is the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, which was passed in 1970. NEPA gives communities and other affected citizens say in extremely important decisions, such as when a dangerous pipeline is proposed in your neighborhood or when a massive, costly freeway is proposed to cross a critical water resource or other fragile areas.
NEPA ensures citizens have a voice in major projects built in their community. This "dirty" backroom deal negotiated by Senator Manchin, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, and others could gut NEPA on behalf of oil and gas companies as well as other corporations that find community input a blockade to their industry goals. The so-called "dirty permitting side deal" would allow government and industry to fast-track fossil fuel and other harmful projects while ignoring native, minority and low-income Americans, who live in the most sacrificed areas of the country such as Appalachia, Alaska, and the Gulf Coast. It will produce more pollution all the while ignoring the reality of the climate crisis.
NEPA is essential to building a sustainable, just, and equitable future. It is not a barrier as some would falsely suggest. When communities are engaged from the beginning of proposed projects the result is rejection of unneeded and harmful projects in favor of stronger proposals, which avoid cycles of social and environmental injustices.
NEPA is the nation's oldest environmental law. Built to ensure that the federal government informs and engages the public it serves, it has a simple mandate--Transparency, Informed Decision-Making, Public Input and Consultation--resulting in major beneficial effects.
In the past 50 years, NEPA has saved lives, preserved community integrity, protected endangered species and public land, and saved billions of dollars. It has often been the first and last line of defense against government and industry abuse, fraud, and waste. NEPA success stories can be found across the nation.
NEPA has helped to restore 138 acres of contaminated land in Georgia into a safe place to live and work. It has given Alaskans near the Tongass National Forest a fair chance to voice their opinion about the destruction of centuries-old forests in their state. It saved Michigan $1.5 billion in a massive and unnecessary highway while preventing the single largest loss of wetlands in the state to date. In Appalachia, developers canceled plans to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline through 600 miles of forest and farmlands, including the siting of the only compressor station in Virginia in the middle of the historic African American community of Union Hill because of NEPA concerns. NEPA has preserved prime farmland, fisheries, beaches, forests, and coral reefs in the North Pacific.
I urge readers to contact their members of Congress and ask them to reject Manchin's dirty permitting side deal. Our elected congressional representatives cannot bless a backroom deal brokered by fossil fuel industry lobbyists that promise untold damage to American communities like mine by denying them a voice in the permitting process for polluting industries. NEPA is a critical tool for sacrificed communities from across the country to fight back against corporations and the government who have enormous resources and no incentive to protect public health and the long-term stability of the environment.
Demand that your elected representatives walk the talk of democracy. Tell Congress today to reject this dirty side deal which is nothing less than a shameless gift to the fossil fuel and other polluting industries. Instead, urge them to pass the Environmental Justice for All Act. This bill ensures that timely and meaningful public notification for new energy projects, allowing for thorough community review. It will establish procedures (protocols) that will help avoid delays on critically needed renewable energy and other truly necessary infrastructure projects. Call your legislators today and then call them again tomorrow until this deal is defeated.
If you would like to read more about the impact of NEPA and easily contact your member of Congress, visit my friends at earthjustice.org/features/nepa.
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