Environmental activists are outraged deal struck between President Biden and Republicans to raise the debt ceiling because they would too speed up the construction of the hotly disputed gas pipeline and includes unusual measures to protect this project from judicial review.
The $6.6 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would carry natural gas about 300 miles from West Virginia’s Marcellus shale fields through nearly 1,000 streams and wetlands before ending up in Virginia, is a top priority for Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-West Virginia , but environmentalists and many Virginia Democrats have been fighting for a decade.
A group of environmental groups condemned the pipeline’s inclusion in the debt relief deal, with one group, Climate Defiance, planning to protest Tuesday night at the New York home of Sen. Chuck Schumer, the majority leader.
One of the companies behind the pipeline, NextEra Energy, is a major donor Mr. Schumer and Mr. Manchin. In the 2022 cycle, NextEra employees and political action committees gave $302,600 to Mr. Schumer and $60,350 to Mr. Manchin, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Mr. Manchin faces a potentially difficult re-election campaign next year, and completing the pipeline could help him with voters. Gov. Jim Justice, a popular Democrat-turned-Republican, has announced he will seek a Senate seat in West Virginia, a ruby red state that President Trump carried by nearly 40 percentage points in 2020. Keeping this seat is a priority for Democrats.
“We are in a bleak moment,” Climate Defiance he wrote on Twitter. “Politicians we trusted sold us out to fossil fuel CEOs. We were stabbed in the back. We don’t know if we’re going to win, but we sure as hell ain’t going without a peaceful uprising like you’ve never seen before.”
But the White House negotiators who inserted the pipeline language into the debt limit deal say Mr. Biden was honor the deal he struck last summer with Mr. Manchin securing the senator’s tie-breaking vote to pass a landmark inflation-reduction bill that includes more than $370 billion in clean energy projects.
White House officials say the benefits of the bill far outweigh any new greenhouse gas emissions produced as a result of the West Virginia pipeline. They also noted that they were able to block Republicans from repealing many of the Clean Energy Climate Act provisions as part of the debt ceiling compromise.
The bill includes some other small steps aimed at faster approval of energy projects of all types by adjusting federal permitting policies under the National Environmental Policy Act. White House officials have said they consider construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline largely a done deal, as more than half of the project has been built and only a few permits remain to be issued.
But opponents of the pipeline say completion was far from certain, with several court cases pending. A provision in the debt agreement could deem those calls moot and block any future litigation.
The deal would direct federal agencies to approve all remaining pipeline permits within 21 days and exempt those permits from judicial review. And should any entity want to challenge the legality of the ruling, the legislation would shift jurisdiction from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, where environmentalists have won several court victories, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Circuit.
“This is an unprecedented run around the courts, which have repeatedly denied permits because of MVP’s failure to follow basic environmental laws,” said Ben Jealous, executive director of the Sierra Club, which has challenged several permits related to the pipeline. “We are examining the legal implications of this proposal and our next steps.”
In March, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of a case brought by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups that argued the pipeline should be subject to stricter Clean Water Act reviews.
Sen. Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, said he plans to file an amendment to remove the pipeline language from the debt limit bill. A spokeswoman for Mr. Kaine said he was “extremely disappointed” by the language, which “bypasses the normal judicial and administrative review process that every other energy project must go through.”
On Tuesday, six Virginia House Democrats filed an identical amendment, though they stopped short of threatening to vote against the larger bill if their effort to change it failed.
“We have serious concerns about the adverse climate and environmental justice impacts this project will have on vulnerable communities across our Commonwealth,” Virginia House Democrats said in a statement. “This project would disproportionately affect the most vulnerable among us, including low-income people, the elderly, and tribal and indigenous communities throughout Virginia.”
The Mountain Valley Pipeline has been opposed by environmentalists and civil rights activists for years. Scientists have warned that nations must stop approving new fossil fuel projects if they want to curb global warming, which President Biden has said is a top priority.
It’s unusual for Congress to step in to shield specific infrastructure projects from judicial oversight, said Michael Gerrard, an environmental law expert at Columbia University. In one similar case in the 1970s, Tennessee lawmakers managed to remove a dam in his state from the Endangered Species Act to overcome legal challenges, a move that attracted widespread attention at the time.
The effort to fast-track the Mountain Valley Pipeline could set a precedent for other court-bound projects, Mr. Gerrard added. “One can imagine another company saying to their favorite senator, ‘Hey, Joe Manchin did it for them, why not us?'” he said.
Some activists warned that the move could cost Mr. Biden election-year support among the young, climate-minded voters who helped elect him in 2020, but they are angry now after his administration approved several fossil fuel projects, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, an oil project in Alaska known as Willowand a controversial pipeline project that would carry hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil across Minnesota’s fragile watersheds.
The anger comes even as Mr. Biden pushed through a new climate law that would cut America’s warming carbon dioxide emissions by up to one billion tons by 2030. proposed regulations This could remove up to 15 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2055.
Federal regulators they estimated that if all the natural gas transported in the Mountain Valley Pipeline were burned in power plants and homes, about 40 million tons of carbon dioxide would be released each year—the equivalent of nine million cars produced each year.
But calculating the full impact on climate change is trickier, experts said. Some of that gas could have been flared anyway even if the pipeline hadn’t been built, and some could have replaced coal, an even dirtier fuel that’s still widely used in the Southeast, though regulators haven’t tried to quantify those factors.
Several climate policy experts have said that in terms of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, it is worth allowing the Mountain Valley Pipeline to keep the deflationary law intact.
In a tightly divided Congress, compromise is necessary, said David Axelrod, a Democratic strategist who helped Barack Obama win the White House. “The question is whether the steps forward you take are greater than any steps back you have to take to make these deals work,” he said. “And Biden is making those calculations.
And by giving Mr. Manchin a win to trumpet his constituents, Democrats could hope to hold on to the West Virginia Senate seat, “which will be much more beneficial for long-term policy and climate policy,” Paul Bledsoe, a former climate adviser in the Clinton administration, he wrote in an email.
Mr. Axelrod said he did not think Mr. Biden would lose the support of climate voters once the race for the presidency was clearly defined.
“The question at the end of the day is not what people feel now, but what judgments they will make in the fall of 2024,” Mr. Axelrod said. “But the choice is likely to be so serious and important to the climate movement that it’s probably a good bet that people will be highly motivated.”