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A demonstrator wears a photograph of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) as a mask while playing a puppet-master at the periphery of a rally highlighting the efforts of Congressional Democrats to legislate against climate change outside the U.S. Capitol on October 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Environmental Justice Must Be in the Forefront of Any Permitting Reform Efforts by Congress

Manchin's bill would severely erode community input, advance inadequate environmental analysis, and eliminate judicial relief for those most harmed by inadequately reviewed and/or illegal permitting by state or federal agencies.

Maury Johnson

In September, I joined with hundreds of people from across the country to stop a ploy initiated by my Senator, Joe Manchin (D-WV), Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to gut bedrock environmental law in order to allow highly polluting and unnecessary fossil fuel projects to be fast tracked through the permitting process. This unprecedented action would gut the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act (CWA) and other social and environmental justice protections. 

It is apparent that Senator Manchin’s proposed permitting reform has little to do with renewable energy, but is rather a self serving, fossil fuel industry give-away.

The fast-tracking attempt failed, but I have been forewarned of the possibility that Sen. Manchin’s Energy Independence and Security Act, or some other more insidious version of it, will be re-introduced as an amendment to the year end must-pass bills of 2022. It could be either as an Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act or an attachment to the omnibus bills which fund our national security and the ongoing operation of the federal government. Such legislation would prioritize industry interests over the lives of those most impacted by environmental injustice and create more climate-change induced disasters. The timing of this legislation can be seen as a second attempt to quash any debate and to hold our elected representatives hostage - effectively forcing them to either vote yes on this fossil fuel bolstering Bill or to expose the government to an end of the year shutdown and to the threat of putting our national security at risk. This is inacceptable.

I am again joining forces with these organizations and environmental stewards to demonstrate our commitment to ensuring that equity and justice are central to national policy decisions. Citizens are once again mobilizing to tell President Biden, Senators Manchin, Schumer, Speaker Pelosi and Congress that the American people do not support this dangerous, undemocratic, fast-track permitting maneuver.

I strongly urge our leaders to reject this regressive bill and instead to pass the Environmental Justice for All Act. It is incumbent upon the President and Congress to support reform measures that put democracy and community interests at the forefront of any decision-making process. The Environmental Justice for All Act ensures that timely and meaningful public notification is a requisite for all new energy projects and allows for thorough community review. It establishes procedures that will help avoid delays on critically needed renewable energy and other necessary infra-structure projects.

It is apparent that Senator Manchin’s proposed permitting reform has little to do with renewable energy, but is rather a self serving, fossil fuel industry give-away. This “dirty & deadly side deal” will unleash a tidal-wave of unchecked fossil fuel expansion at the expense of frontline communities like mine and it will continue to turn Appalachia, Alaska, the Gulf Coast, Indigenous Communities as well as other areas of the country into sacrificial zones. Those hit first and worst by the climate crisis - who have historically been harmed through environmental racism and economic inequality will once again suffer if this permitting reform is approved. Manchin and his friends are attempting to weaken community rights. Their attempt to mandate the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline by government edict is a petulant and arrogant power grab that panders to the fossil fuel industry and to those who are either invested in it or whose political campaigns have been financed by it.  The changes they propose  will weaken or eliminate over 50 years of landmark environmental law—an  unconscionable act at any time, but even more egregious at this time of existential climate crisis in which  we are literally fighting for the future of our planet. Further elimination of certain checks and balances inherent in our democratic governance model will eliminate what little protection our communities have obtained up to now through the NEPA review. The so-called “transition” that Manchin is orchestrating will only further hardship and cause the destruction of the homes and communities of the poor and powerless.

Community engagement, participation and transparency are the foundation of a healthy democracy. Manchin’s bill would severely erode community input, advance inadequate environmental analysis, and eliminate judicial recourse for those most harmed by subpar processes and would mandate the completion of the highly controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). As a member of an environmental injustice community and directly, severely impacted property owner on the path of the MVP, an unnecessary fracked-gas pipeline, I call on government leaders to protect the NEPA and reject any reforms that diminish community input and create more sacrificial zones. I ask that this corrupt side deal be quickly rejected and that the administration advance the promises put forth by Justice 40, an initiative that will protect our climate while also protecting the well-being of  racial minorities, native-american, and economically disadvantaged communities like mine here in Appalachia and around the country.

In conclusion, I strongly oppose legislation that will permanently weaken bedrock environmental laws, laws that ensure thorough evaluation and review of the environmental impacts of major projects and the timely notification of the public with opportunities to comment. Manchin’s bill would severely erode community input, advance inadequate environmental analysis, and eliminate judicial relief for those most harmed by inadequately reviewed and/or illegal permitting by state or federal agencies. 

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Maury Johnson

Maury Johnson

Maury Johnson is a southern West Virginia landowner, whose organic farm has been impacted by the Mountain Valley Pipeline. He is a member of Preserve Monroe and the POWHR (Protect Our Water, Heritage, & Rights) Coalition both who have been fighting the MVP and other harmful projects across WV/VA&NC for 8 years.

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