While congressional Democrats pursue a new bill to fast-track the permitting process for natural-gas projects, including pipelines, a Hill staffer tells TYT that progressives are being shut out of talks.
The bill was promised to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) by Sen. Maj. Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in exchange for Manchin supporting the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Signed into law last week by Pres. Joe Biden, the IRA is a scaled-back version of his Build Back Better agenda, with $369 billion in climate and energy provisions.
As part of their deal, Schumer promised Manchin that his separate pipeline permitting bill would get a vote, possibly next month if attached to an appropriations bill to keep the federal government funded beyond Sept. 30.
Some members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, notably Natural Resources Committee Chair Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), have already said they won’t help fulfill Schumer’s pledge to pass the Manchin bill. And last week, environmental advocates told TYT that they’re launching public campaigns to build public pressure for blocking the bill, which is expected to have a disproportionate impact on Black, brown, indigenous, and low-income communities.
The Hill staffer, who spoke to TYT on the condition of anonymity, pointed out that Manchin’s push to expedite pipeline permits would mean limiting community input. And those communities are disproportionately economically depressed or communities of color. “It’s the advocates of color and the representatives of color who are not being talked to about this thing,” the staffer said.
“Basically, this permitting deal is about expediting projects so that you don't have to spend time on communities saying if they’re comfortable with the project,” said the staffer. “Just think about how crazy that is.”
Grijalva made a similar point in a Newsweek op-ed. In it, Grijalva referred to a watermark reading “Draft - API” on a leaked draft of the Manchin bill obtained by Bloomberg, concluding that API stands for American Petroleum Institute, a powerful fossil fuel trade group.
“Contrary to industry talking points, these anti-environmental shortcuts will not speed up development by cutting ‘red tape,’” Grijalva wrote. “They will speed up development by rushing polluting projects through before the people who must live near them know what hit them.”
Grijalva said that the bill’s provisions will also “make sure the doors to the courthouse are locked so the families hurt by this pollution can't get in” and vowed that, “If API tries to force passage of its proposal through the House, we will fight against it.”
Other House progressives coming out strong against the pipeline bill include Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), and Cori Bush (D-MO), who have publicly denounced the closed-door agreement between Manchin and Schumer. Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) has been critical but noncommittal. She told Politico, “None of us were consulted on the permitting pieces of this. The jury is still out. I don't think anyone should take those votes for granted.”
Even without progressive support, Manchin’s looser permitting could become law in at least two ways. Deregulatory Republicans could back it. Or Democratic leadership could attach it to the must-pass government-funding measure. Climate justice advocates and progressive lawmakers are pushing to have it brought as a stand-alone piece of legislation, so Democrats won’t feel pressured to pass it just because they need to keep the government funded.
According to the staffer, progressives have been shut out of the pipeline permitting talks in much the way that climate and environmental advocates of color have been shut out of conversations around creating climate policy from its inception. And much in the way that the resulting legislation threatens to shut communities of color out of the process to determine the fate of their own neighborhoods.
“There were no members of the House – maybe [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi (D-CA) – who even were in the process,” the staffer said. “There's not very many people of color in the Senate and none of those people were in there. When these EJ [environmental justice] activists say that this was like a white-decided plan – that … everyone else was sort of told, ‘This is what you’re getting with the parts you like and the parts you don't like, this is decided’ - it’s true. So that's why people are so mad.”
In a tweet over the weekend, Bush echoed Grijalva’s stance, saying, “If we allow ‘Permitting Reform’ to happen, it is Black and brown communities who’ll pay the heaviest price.” Bush, who represents much of St. Louis, MO, said, “This deal was made by two people on behalf of an entire Congress. St. Louis’s vote won’t be taken for granted.”
Proponents of fast-tracking the permitting process have said that the National Environmental Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) places too great a burden on pipeline companies. Manchin boasted earlier this month about voting to overturn parts of the NEPA. Manchin said, “For years I’ve worked to fix our broken permitting system and I know the Administration’s approach to permitting is dead wrong. Today’s vote to repeal these burdensome NEPA rules is a step in the right direction.”
But the Hill staffer rejected Manchin’s claim. “What does it mean that these National Environmental Policy Act components are burdensome?” the staffer said. “What they're saying is burdensome is folks in predominantly Black and Indigenous communities saying, ‘We need to make sure that we're going to be safe before you put in a pipeline here and spill oil in our neighborhood.’”
The staffer said, “That's not burdensome. That is a safety issue. That’s an environmental health issue. I mean, it's just environmental racism 101. Communities have to have input whether it's a solar project or pipeline so that you can get the expertise and experiential input of local people.”
Now, climate and environmental justice groups are working to galvanize support from additional lawmakers to stop the permitting measure from passing. Expanding their efforts beyond private lobbying, activists are now going public. On Sept. 8, members of Stop MVP Coalition and People vs. Fossil Fuels will hold a rally in DC to halt the Mountain Valley Pipeline - a 303-mile natural-gas pipeline system spanning from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia with plans to extend into North Carolina, which Manchin has supported.
TYT Washington Correspondent Candice Cole was previously a correspondent and senior White House producer for the Black News Channel and has worked at a number of local news outlets. You can find her on Twitter @CandiceColeNews.