Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and 71 other House members sent a letter today to House leadership urging them against attaching a bill fast-tracking energy-project permits to must-pass legislation to fund the government beyond Sept. 30.
Environmental groups sent a similar letter today to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Both letters were sent to House leadership as environmental and climate justice groups are ratcheting up public pressure campaigns, including a rally yesterday outside the Capitol, against loosening the rules for fossil fuel and other energy projects. One activist reported being kicked out of a meeting with congressional staff yesterday.
Pelosi, along with Sen. Maj. Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), promised the bill in a side deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to get Manchin’s vote for the Inflation Reduction Act. Progressive members of Congress were not consulted, however. The bill specifically calls for easing the way for a pipeline Manchin supports.
Opponents of that project, the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), have warned it will not only worsen climate change, it threatens the environment and water sources it will cross.
Schumer has already said he’ll pass the Manchin bill by attaching it to the must-pass funding legislation, known as a continuing resolution. This week, a number of senators have indicated they might balk at that tactic. Pelosi has yet to say what she will do in the House.
Today’s letter from Grijalva, who chairs the Natural Resources Committee, was first reported by TYT when he began gathering signatures last month. Last week, TYT revealed that notable signatories include Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the rest of “The Squad,” and House Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) told TYT he opposes the bill, and other leading progressives have signed Grijalva’s letter, too, including Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Katie Porter (D-CA), and Jamie Raskin (D-MD). Other House Democrats not always identified as progressive are also on board.
All told, the 72 signatories account for roughly one third of the House Democratic Caucus. That’s enough to sink any bill if Pelosi can’t get Republican support for it. If Pelosi attaches it to the continuing resolution she will risk causing a government shutdown if progressives stand their ground.
In his letter, addressed to Pelosi and Maj. Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Grijalva says Manchin’s permitting legislation would gut environmental law and effectively silence many Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities seeking to protect themselves against the harmful effects of energy infrastructure projects like natural gas drilling. The permitting changes are largely intended to expedite energy-project permits by making it harder for local communities to oppose them.
Grijalva’s letter says, in part, “The permitting and public notice and comment provisions mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are among the only tools local communities have to force careful review of federal projects that may have serious, long-term, environmental, and public health consequences in those communities. Congress should continue to provide increased funding to assist federal agencies in completing the NEPA process but attempts to short-circuit or undermine the law in the name of “reform” must be opposed.”
Defenders of the Manchin bill say supporting it is a necessary price and worth the benefits of getting Manchin to support $369 billion for climate and energy in the Inflation Reduction Act.
The letter says the proposed legislation, which is not yet public, will limit how much redress the public can seek in court against harmful projects. It would also shorten the time limits for opposition, and “curtail public input, environmental review, and government accountability.”
According to the letter, the bill “would weaken other important public health protections, including the Clean Water Act and more.”
Within hours of Grijalva’s letter being sent to House leadership, leaders of 29 environmental justice groups sent their own letter to Pelosi opposing Manchin’s “dirty side deal.”
That letter’s signatories include eight members of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. It says in part that Manchin’s permitting deal, “is being negotiated behind closed doors, outside of proper government process and the view of our families and communities who it will deeply impact.”
The environmental-justice letter also says that the process congressional leaders are pursuing to push the Manchin bill “stands in sharp contrast to the principled process we have been undertaking for several years with sponsors of the Environmental Justice for All Act and the Statement of Principles for Environmental Justice Legislation.”
Addressing Pelosi, the letter says, “[W]e urge you to prioritize addressing a legacy of policies that have perpetuated environmental racism and systemically overburdened communities of color, Native/Indigenous, and poor communities with our nation’s pollution and environmental degradation.”
Last month, a previous letter about the Manchin bill, from more than 650 groups, urged Schumer and Pelosi not to weaken protections against potentially hazardous projects.
And yesterday, an estimated 500 activists from the Stop MVP and People vs. Fossil Fuels coalitions rallied outside the Capitol to halt the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, after a full day of lobbying lawmakers against the project. If completed, the MVP would carry natural gas over 300 miles from Manchin’s home state of West Virginia to southern Virginia.
Manchin has long fought to ensure that Democratic climate and energy policies are “all of the above,” perpetuating the fossil fuel industry alongside renewable energy. Manchin, as has been widely reported, has fossil fuel interests of his own. TYT previously reported he has made at least $5 million from his coal-industry company.
Nor is Manchin the only member of Congress with a financial stake in fossil fuels. Lever News reported this week that NextEra, the company taking the lead on the MVP project and whose executives are major donors to Manchin’s campaign, is “collectively Schumer’s second largest campaign contributor.”
Crystal Cavalier-Keck, co-founder of Seven Directions of Service, said during her remarks at yesterday’s rally, “We are reporting back to the press, to media, to everybody [about] what's happening and our voices are being silenced with these policies that are being pushed through [and] rammed down people's throats. And so, we're trying to get our elected leaders to, you know, just listen to us.”
For nine years, activists have blocked completion of the MVP. But if Manchin’s bill were to pass, Stop MVP says the pipeline’s greenhouse-gas emissions would equal those of 19 million cars or 23 coal-fired power plants. They say the MVP would also pose “the constant risk of landslide-driven explosions among some of the steepest mountain slopes in Appalachia,” where the pipeline has been routed.
According to Cavalier-Keck, she and a number of Indigenous environmental activists were kicked out of the office of Rep. Virginia’s Foxx (R-NC) yesterday after a meeting with Foxx’s environmental consultant turned sour. Foxx’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We were actually kicked out of Representative Foxx's office,” Cavalier-Keck said, “because her environmental consultant, he got fed up and didn't want to listen to what we were telling him.” She added that Foxx apparently had no idea this was happening in her district.
As activists were at the Capitol yesterday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was on the Senate floor, opposing Manchin’s legislation. Sanders said, “We have got 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.”
In a statement, Grijalva warned that Pelosi, not progressives, will be responsible for a shutdown if she attaches Manchin’s bill to the continuing resolution and it fails. The statement said, in part:
"In the face of the existential threats like climate change and MAGA extremism, House and Senate leadership has a greater responsibility than ever to avoid risking a government shutdown by jamming divisive policy riders into a must-pass continuing resolution. Permitting reform hurts already-overburdened communities, puts polluters on an even faster track and divides the caucus. Now is just not the time.”
The back-and-forth now sets the stage for a potential showdown between progressives and Democratic leadership as a potential government shutdown draws closer.
If Manchin’s side deal does pass, Cavalier-Keck says they won’t stop fighting. “We're going to continue maybe indirect action or nonviolent direct action, because we have to get them to listen to us. And if that is by going to the polls in November, and not reelecting these politicians who are not upholding their constituents’ values, that is what we will do. We will turn the vote out and vote you out of office.”
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.