A group of 77 House Democrats are urging the chamber’s leadership to oppose the inclusion of a host of pro-fossil fuel provisions in the upcoming must-pass government funding bill, including a side deal made with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) to fast track a major fracked gas pipeline.
The Democrats, led by House Committee on Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona), say that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) must ensure that efforts to weaken fossil fuel project permitting regulations — which are slated to be included in the upcoming continuing resolution to fund the government — are taken out.
This is not only crucial for the climate, the Democrats say, but also for protecting low-income, Indigenous and other non-white communities. The letter was signed by prominent progressive lawmakers, including Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington).
Permitting provisions that are slated to be included in the resolution are tantamount to “attempts to short-circuit or undermine the law in the name of ‘reform,’” which “must be opposed,” the Democrats wrote, noting that these reforms appear to have been proposed by the American Petroleum Institute (API).
These “reforms” include setting maximum timelines for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which environmentalists say would severely undermine the keystone environmental law’s efficacy in guarding frontline communities from pollution and other impacts and could worsen the climate crisis. The proposals could kneecap the public’s ability to comment on projects that are slated to be placed in their communities, which is crucial to the NEPA process.
There are also proposals to weaken permitting regulations set by the Clean Water Act and set strict deadlines for court challenges to energy projects — the latter of which are a crucial tool of climate advocates fighting against projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is set to be fast tracked by the resolution.
“These destructive provisions will allow polluting manufacturing and energy development projects to be rushed through before the families who are forced to live near them are even aware of the plans,” the lawmakers wrote.
“The inclusion of these provisions in a continuing resolution, or any other must-pass legislation, would silence the voices of frontline and environmental justice communities by insulating them from scrutiny,” they continued. “Such a move would force Members to choose between protecting EJ communities from further pollution or funding the government.”
The letter comes as Indigenous and Appalchian climate activists protested in Washington, D.C. last week to speak out against the Manchin and Big Oil deal, saying that Democrats’ approval of projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline sacrifices their communities for the profits of fossil fuel corporations.
“The Manchin dirty deal is more than a dirty deal and a give-away to the fossil fuel industry,” Maury Johnson, co-chair of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Coalition, which helped to lead the protest, said in a statement. “If it is passed it will decimate the environmental and social justice laws put into place over the several decades.”
Other lawmakers have also spoken out against the pipeline, which is projected to emit the equivalent amount of greenhouse gas emissions of 26 coal plants a year and transport fracked gas between over 300 miles of West Virginia and Virginia, according to Oil Change International. Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) announced that he would not vote for the continuing resolution if it included the Mountain Valley Pipeline deal.
“Combating climate change is more important than fossil fuel profits. I will not vote for any bill that makes it easier for Big Oil to destroy the planet and that includes approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” Sanders said on Twitter. “The Continuing Resolution must not be held hostage by Big Oil.”
Correction: This story has been edited to reflect a new number of letter signers after lawmakers sent an updated version of the document late Monday afternoon.