Hundreds of people descended on Washington, D.C. Thursday to lobby lawmakers and rally against a federal permit reform proposal—which would serve the fossil fuel industry that's driving the global climate emergency.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreed to pass permit changes in exchange for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voting for the Inflation Reduction Act—and Schumer made clear Wednesday that he intends to connect the reforms to a continuing resolution that must pass this month to avert a government shutdown.
"A half-century of environmental law and public participation in the decisions impacting their communities hang in the balance because Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin made a dirty deal behind closed doors that would sacrifice frontline communities from the Bronx and Brooklyn, to Appalachia, and throughout Indian Country," said Anthony Karefa Rogers-Wright, director of environmental justice at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
Leading up to the mobilization, "No Sacrifice Zones: Appalachian Resistance Comes to D.C.," Joye Braun, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Indigenous Environmental Network, told Common Dreams that the deal is "a threat to our democracy."
"The American public needs to be concerned that their voices are being cut out of the democratic process. That in and of itself is scary enough," she said, arguing that no politician should be making deals like the one Manchin and Schumer struck to push through a flawed climate package.
Braun—one of the speakers at a Thursday evening rally in D.C.—added in a statement that "this dirty side deal is nothing short of a wholesale giveaway to the fossil fuel industry to the detriment of frontline communities, tribal nations, and Mother Earth."
"The world is on fire and negotiating the amount of fuel for those flames is not acceptable," she declared.
Manchin has called for prioritizing projects of "strategic national importance," time restrictions on permit reviews, altering clean water rules, limiting court challenges, and boosting federal authority for some proposals.
"This deal will mute the voices of the pollution-overburdened, paying lip service to pleas for relief from petrochemical, pipeline, and LNG expansion, while allowing Big Oil and Gas to further inflict damage to their lives and health by their expansion, and the weakening of environmental laws and enforcement," warned John Beard, CEO and founder of the Port Arthur Community Action Network.
"Here's a solution: Pass the continuing resolution, devise a just and equitable climate-conscious permitting policy, and stop playing political games with people and the climate!" he suggested. "We need a policy that goes beyond lip service; we need a policy that is equitable, that reflects environmental, social, and racial justice, that respects disparate and local impacts to affected communities."
"We need a policy that stops the sacrifice of millions of Americans to feed the oil/profit addiction that seeks gross profits in the so-called 'public interest,'" he continued. "We've had enough of deception, lies, and promises; we demand environmental and climate justice NOW! We refuse to be sacrificed any further."
Manchin has also specifically fought for finishing the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP)—though a leaked draft bill does not mention it. The fracked gas pipeline would run through his state and "add tens of millions of tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution to the atmosphere every year for decades to come," according to an Oil Change International report published Thursday.
In a floor speech Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) spoke out against the MVP and argued that lawmakers need to "have the courage to finally tell the fossil fuel industry that the future of this planet is more important than their short-term profits."
Sanders signaled that he would vote against the deal and noted that dozens of House Democrats are also signing on to a letter to oppose it.
Some of the campaigners who came together for the D.C. mobilization—organized by the People vs. Fossil Fuels and Stop MVP coalitions—have long been focused on killing the incomplete pipeline.
"Here in Appalachia, on the frontlines of the Mountain Valley Pipeline fight, we stand united with all frontline communities that our politicians are too quick to deem sacrifice zones in exchange for their political gain and financial profit," said Mountain Valley Watch coordinator Russell Chisholm.
"We demand Congress stop Manchin's dirty pipeline deal," he said, "and embark upon a path of inclusive and bold climate action that centers our needs—for we are not only the most impacted by the climate crisis, we are communities that have been underestimated by the fossil fuel industry for decades—we know how to fight this extraction and come out with a livable, just future for all."