Five hundred and eighteen: the word count of Senator Merkley’s letter to Senator Schumer. The letter objects to what Merkley calls “proposed permitting reforms” on environmental justice grounds. Seven senators (Booker, Cardin, Duckworth, Markey, Sanders, Van Hollen, and Warren) joined Merkley in signing, but NOT self-styled “Climate Champion” and Number 1 recipient of Big Timber Industry contributions Ron Wyden. Those 518 words do not contain the 5 words that Extinction Rebellion PDX demanded in a street action at Merkley’s Portland office and that we still demand: I Pledge to Vote No.
“Proposed permitting reforms” is a euphemism for the legislation, originally drafted by the American Petroleum Institute, to speed up the approval of fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Secretively in some committee room, somewhat like the original deal-making between Schumer and Manchin, that text has been rewritten as the “[fill in the blank] Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022.” Really. The first word is left blank for now. Maybe Joe Manchin’s name will eventually fill the blank. Or you can think of an adjective. Read the bill here: https://www.energy.senate.gov/services/files/EAB527DC-FA23-4BA9-B3C6-6AB108626F02
Environmental justice and climate organizations have named this “the dirty side deal” — the goody bag inducing Manchin to vote for the Inflation Reduction Act, a deeply flawed bill with giveaways to oil and gas companies. Manchin’s deal, if passed as either an amendment to the Continuing Resolution government funding bill or as a stand-alone bill, would stifle citizen powers to protect communities (usually Black, Latino, Indigenous and/or poor white) against the deep pockets of corporations and the devastation of extraction sites, pipelines, refineries, LNG export facilities and more. Environmental justice, mentioned 8 times in Merkley’s letter, would indeed be an empty phrase and a broken promise if Manchin’s side deal goes through.
The letter is strangely silent on two key points. One is the Elephant in the Room: the climate impacts of all this new, speeded-through infrastructure. The IPCC, the UN Secretary General, the International Energy Agency, and climate scientists around the world are saying in one loud voice: No New Oil and Gas Development!
Second, Merkley’s letter to Schumer talks of listening to those concerned with environmental justice and agreeing with them – but says nothing about how Merkley and the few like-minded senators will VOTE. This letter should inform Schumer in no uncertain terms that these 8 senators will vote no on the dirty side deal; thus far, only Senators Sanders and Kaine have pledged to do so. Amendment, separate bill – makes no difference. We weren’t in the room when you gave the nod to Manchin, but we’re here now and we are telling you NO, kill the bill. Instead, in a letter to constituents dated September 23, Merkley says “I am fighting to keep this unpopular bill off of a must-pass spending bill so that we can avert any risk of a government shutdown, which would also disproportionately impact communities of color.” Is this his signal that if Schumer, after publicly pledging to include Manchin’s dirty deal as an amendment to the Continuing Resolution, then follows through, Merkley will vote YEA using his support for “communities of color” as an excuse?
And yes, it is diabolical that Majority Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi are planning to use the government funding bill as an instrument of blackmail for votes for Manchin’s deal, “a cruel and direct attack on environmental justice communities and the climate,” according to a letter to congressional leadership signed by 650 organizations. On September 22, 11 executive directors of climate, environmental and labor organizations were arrested in a brave protest action blocking the Hart Senate Building.
Will Merkley’s virtue-signaling using “environmental justice” rhetoric satisfy us if he votes the wrong way? More importantly, what will this terrible Act, if it is signed into law, do to the lands, waters, homes and people of Appalachia, the Gulf Coast States, and Alaska? They will have neither independence nor security, just more destruction for others’ profit.
This bill is a hinge. If it passes, we will suddenly live in a more dangerous world where fossil fuel corporations have more power, and vulnerable people have less. If it fails, we will have held on to our access to legal tools in the crucial fights for real environmental and climate justice. We will find out soon which side of that hinge Senator Merkley (and Wyden) are on.
Here’s a reminder of what the Manchin deal would do:
- Almost immediately, “eliminate any judicial review for key parts of the MVP [Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia and Virginia] process and strip jurisdiction away from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit for cases involving the MVP” (thanks to VA Senator Tom Kaine for these details)
- Fast-track at least 4 mining operations; 5 fossil fuel energy projects; 2 carbon capture projects; 1 hydrogen project among others (thanks to Jim Walsh, Policy Director of Food & Water Watch)
- Limit public comment period to 60 days unless the developer grants an extension
- Restrict legal challenges to 150 days
- Block the use of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and states’ use of the Clean Water Act as tools to deny permits to projects
- And more; see https://www.commondreams.org/news/2022/09/21/manchin-unveils-full-text-shameless-handout-fossil-fuel-industry
The vote on the Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government will happen on September 30. The dirty side deal may be included as an amendment. Keep calling, and keep spreading the word. 202-224-3121.