One of the world’s biggest environmental groups tells TYT that elements of a coming bill to fast-track energy projects “conflict with” the Biden administration’s climate goals and “threaten significant harm” to disenfranchised communities.
The statement by the World Resources Institute (WRI) came four days after TYT reported that WRI was one of only two major environmental organizations yet to comment publicly on the bill, which is being pushed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and would include fossil fuel projects.
Lawmakers and environmentalists have been anxiously waiting for a final version of the bill to be made public. Earlier today, Manchin said the text of the bill will be released on Wednesday.
WRI had been named by an environmental-justice source as one of three major groups that potentially could provide political cover for lawmakers to back the bill, either by remaining silent or endorsing it. Manchin’s bill would make it easier to build both fossil fuel and renewable energy facilities, but WRI’s statement today says there are other ways to fast-track green projects without sidelining affected communities.
TYT reported earlier today that environmental activists, including some on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, say there is no longer enough time to do an environmental-impact study on Manchin’s bill, which Democratic leaders have said they want to get through the Senate by the end of next week.
Sen. Maj. Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said he’ll pass Manchin’s bill by attaching it to a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded past the end of the fiscal year next week, on Sept. 30. Whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will do the same – over progressive opposition – remains unclear. More than a third of House Democrats have asked her not to.
The source named WRI, The Nature Conservancy, and the Environmental Defense Fund as big enough to make it easier for Pelosi to attach Manchin’s bill to a CR by remaining silent. The EDF came out against Manchin’s bill last week.
When TYT first reached out to the other two organizations, The Nature Conservancy said it was too soon to comment. WRI said they couldn’t comment because their experts were out of town.
Today, WRI Strategic Communications and Media Manager Alison Cinnamond told TYT that she “wanted to apologize that WRI experts weren’t available to meet your deadline last week.” Cinnamond added, “To be clear, WRI does have a position on Permitting Reform.”
WRI’s statement never mentions Manchin or his bill explicitly. And the organization does praise some of the reported elements of Manchin’s plan, specifically fast-tracking renewable energy projects.
According to the WRI statement, “An accelerated permitting process for clean energy projects is needed to help achieve our climate goals, create good-paying jobs and ensure America is competitive in global clean energy markets.”
However, Manchin’s plan reportedly calls for a balance between renewables and fossil fuel. WRI’s statement says, “Any federal permitting reform should prioritize clean energy projects, consider the cumulative impact from new development on top of existing pollution sources, meet strict environmental standards and provide for early and effective community input.”
And WRI’s statement also says there are other, more equitable ways to fast-track green energy.
“California and New York offer good examples of how to accelerate clean energy project permitting while involving the community in the process,” the statement says. “Congress should learn from these examples and address permitting reform through regular order, allowing for hearings, testimony and thoughtful consideration from all stakeholders.”
WRI concludes by embracing the same concerns that environmental-justice advocates have expressed about the Manchin bill’s potential to exacerbate climate change and disproportionately threaten the environments of Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities.
The statement says, “Any effort to fast-track new unabated fossil fuel projects via permitting reform would conflict with the United States’ climate goals and threaten significant harm to frontline communities, especially those that have borne a disproportionate pollution burden for far too long.”
WRI’s statement now leaves The Nature Conservancy as the only major environmental group that hasn’t made a public statement on Manchin’s bill and that could potentially help Pelosi justify attaching it to the CR, despite pushback from lawmakers and environmental justice groups.
As was first reported by TYT last month, House Natural Resources Committee Chair Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) lobbied fellow Democrats against the bill, ultimately getting 76 House Democrats to co-sign his letter to Pelosi and Maj. Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) asking them for a stand-alone vote on Manchin’s bill.
Hundreds of environmental organizations also have reached out to Pelosi to allow a clean vote on what they called Manchin’s “dirty side deal.”
Democrats now have less than two weeks to avoid a government shutdown by passing a continuing resolution, which could be introduced in the next few days.
Last week, Institute for Policy Studies Climate Policy Director Basav Sen told TYT that it’s “deeply concerning” that, in his view, some of the world’s largest environmental groups are so concerned about “preserving their own access” to Congress and the White House that they’re afraid to call out “the corrupt, industry-backed ‘side deal’.”
If the Manchin bill becomes law, it would severely limit community input on potentially harmful energy infrastructure projects, like natural gas drilling, that disproportionately affect communities of color and low-income communities and create more of what activists call “sacrifice zones.” It would also ensure the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would carry natural gas over 300 miles, from Manchin’s home state of West Virginia to southern Virginia – an endeavor environmental justice activists have successfully held off for nine years.
While defenders of the Manchin bill say fast-tracking permitting is necessary to slow climate change, progressives and climate activists have said it can be done for clean energy without disproportionately hurting disenfranchised communities and without including fossil-fuel projects.
Manchin’s bill, which was promised to him by Schumer in exchange for supporting the Inflation Reduction Act, requires the president to keep a rolling list of at least 25 high-priority energy projects – fossil fuel and renewable – to be fast-tracked for permitting. In addition to curbing community power to halt or slow these projects, a leaked summary of the bill says it would also impose a time limit for communities to challenge them in court.
Manchin says tomorrow’s release of his permitting bill will allow enough time for senators to go through it ahead of a vote on the CR next week. He declined to predict whether Pelosi will attach it to the House CR but said he trusts her.
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.