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Manchin Bill May Pass with No Time to Study Environmental Impact

New poll finds public overwhelmingly opposes giving lobbyists priority over community concerns in granting permits for new energy projects

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Maj. Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) at Pres. Joe Biden's Aug. 16, 2022, signing ceremony for the Inflation Reduction Act.

 

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Environmental justice leaders say there’s not enough time to do an environmental-impact study of Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) legislation to fast-track energy projects if it’s attached to must-pass legislation to fund the federal government beyond September 30.

Congressional progressives and environmental groups have asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who supports the bill, to allow a “clean” vote just on Manchin’s legislation.

The bill would make it harder for communities to fight new energy projects, including fossil fuel, based on risks to the environment. Without an environmental-impact study, members of Congress won’t even have an estimate of how the bill could affect the communities – disproportionately Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income – where the new energy projects will be built.

The approaching vote comes as a new poll shows the public overwhelmingly wants communities to have more of a say on energy projects. But even members of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council say they, too, have been left in the dark about the Manchin bill and can’t assess its potential impact.

The bill was promised to Manchin by Sen. Maj. Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in return for Manchin backing the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). But Manchin’s bill, unlike the IRA, has no data estimating its environmental impact.

The environmental impact study of the IRA found that it would significantly cut emissions “down to 32-42% below 2005 levels in 2030.” Without a similar study for Manchin’s bill, environmental justice activists are left to rely on historical experience of how energy projects have impacted frontline communities in the past.

Richard Moore, national co-coordinator for the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform and a co-coordinator of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, told TYT, “We're trying to pull some things together because, you know, we and others, including many, many of our representatives, and our senators, got kind of sidelined with this piece coming out in terms of this behind-closed-doors discussion.”

According to Moore, his organization, along with many others, are still waiting to see a draft of the legislation. Asked whether there’s enough time left to assess the bill’s environmental impact, Moore said, “Quite frankly, there isn't.”

A leaked summary of the side deal between Manchin and Schumer shows that the bill would require the president to keep a rolling list of at least 25 “balanced” 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, it would also impose a time limit for communities to challenge them in court.

If Manchin’s bill does get attached to a House continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded, a vote could come as early as this week, according to guidance from Maj. Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-MD) office.

The lack of an environmental estimate for Manchin’s bill was first reported by The Lever. The Lever reported that “lawmakers appear to be flying blind about the legislation’s environmental impacts.”

One Hill source, however, told TYT that lawmakers haven’t really been pushing for an impact study because they mostly feel the draft legislation as it’s reportedly been written is “clearly problematic and doesn’t require studying.”

The proposed bill is so problematic that hundreds of environmental organizations are opposing it. As TYT reported last week, however, activists warn that persistent silence from a couple of major groups may give Pelosi political cover to attach the bill to the continuing resolution.

Last month, TYT revealed that House Natural Resources Committee Chair Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) was lobbying fellow Democrats against the bill. He ultimately got 76 House Democrats, more than a third of the party’s House caucus, to co-sign his letter asking Pelosi and Hoyer to allow a “clean” vote just on Manchin’s bill. But those signatures don’t automatically mean a ‘no’ vote from House members on the CR if the Manchin bill is included.

However, a new poll by Data for Progress and WE ACT 4 Change suggests that pushing Manchin’s bill through would be wildly out of step with popular sentiment. The poll found that 65% of voters across party lines want lawmakers to prioritize feedback from community groups over lobbyists when it comes to fast-tracking potentially harmful energy projects.

A poll released yesterday shows bipartisan opposition to Manchin's bill making it more difficult for communities to fight potentially hazardous energy projects.

(Data for Progress)

“This poll further confirms the request of 31 environmental justice advocates, representing 20+ states, who sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi asking her to reject the harmful permitting rider in must-pass legislation,” WE ACT for Environmental Justice Senior Director of Strategy and Federal Policy Dana Johnson told TYT.

Those advocates "also asked that Speaker Pelosi lead permitting reform in a process that allows for all voices to be heard - including those in Congress and in the communities that will be burdened with this and related decisions for generations to come," Johnson said.

Moore says he appreciates the historical significance of passing the IRA and it being the largest climate investment ever, but that Manchin’s bill stands in sharp contrast with the climate and environmental commitments made by the Biden administration. Moore said, “We'd like to see this administration and the House and the Senate supporting the EJ (Environmental Justice) for all Act because that's a piece of what can help to move us forward.”

Sponsored by Grijalva, the Environmental Justice for All Act seeks to establish “several environmental justice requirements, advisory bodies, and programs to address the disproportionate adverse human health or environmental effects of federal laws or programs on communities of color, low-income communities, or tribal and indigenous communities.” The bill was introduced in March 2021 and the Data for Progress poll found that it’s supported by 69% of likely voters, including most Republicans.

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.

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