Misguided Sen. Manchin Taking Nation Over “Climate Cliff”

by Duane Nichols on June 1, 2023

MVP at 42 inch diameter is too large for such rough terrain & risks are too high

Congress Is Turning Climate Gaslighting Into Law

From an Article by Jonathan Mingle, New York Times, June 1, 2023

Late on Saturday, as members of Congress scrambled to strike a deal for legislation that would raise the nation’s debt ceiling, they agreed to a total non sequitur in the text they would release the next day. Following a series of late-in-the-game interventions by lobbyists and energy executives, the draft bill declared the construction and operation of a natural gas pipeline to be “required in the national interest.” It wasn’t really germane to the debt ceiling, at least not in the literal sense. But then again, it wasn’t any ordinary pipeline.

Building the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile-long conduit to bring fracked gas from West Virginia to southern Virginia, has been a top priority for Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia since the project was announced in 2014. The problem, for him and the project’s other supporters, is that it has been fiercely opposed by grass-roots groups and landowners living in the project’s path for just as long. Construction on the project was recently stalled after federal judges found that regulatory agencies had repeatedly failed to comply with environmental laws.

By forcing through this pipeline, the Biden administration rounded out the ransom sought by Republicans holding the global economy hostage, and paid off a debt of its own to Mr. Manchin for his crucial vote last year for the Inflation Reduction Act

But if the Senate passes the bill the House passed Wednesday, an insidious piece of misinformation will be enshrined in federal law: the claim that the pumping, piping and burning of more fossil fuels is — despite all scientific evidence and common sense to the contrary — a climate solution.

Natural gas is predominantly made up of methane, a climate-warming super-pollutant that is responsible for about a third of the warming the world has experienced to date. If completed, the Mountain Valley Pipeline will be a very large and long-lived methane delivery device. At the wells that feed it and along the way, some of that methane will inevitably leak into the atmosphere, where each molecule will exert 86 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. At the end of the line, the methane will be burned in power plants and furnaces, producing carbon dioxide. Taken together, by one estimate, the M.V.P. would generate yearly emissions equivalent to what’s produced by 26 coal plants.

Mr. Manchin was also a supporter of another large gas pipeline that would have originated in his state: the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which I have been reporting on since 2019. The two pipelines were twins, announced on the same day in 2014 and approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the same day in 2017. They would have crossed similarly steep and landslide-prone Appalachian terrain. But the A.C.P. was canceled in 2020 after years of tenacious grass-roots resistance and successful legal challenges.

Mr. Manchin seems determined to rescue the Mountain Valley Pipeline from this fate. And with it, his gas industry and power utility donors — whose lobbyists helped him in the final hours of debt ceiling deal making — will be able to further strengthen their foothold in the energy system.

White House officials have said that the project would probably have secured the remaining federal permits regardless. But the provision authorizes all necessary permits and bars further judicial review of any of them — thus neutering an essential tool for ensuring that infrastructure projects comply with existing laws and regulations. It’s the legislative equivalent of overturning the Scrabble board in a fit of pique when you’re losing a game fair and square.

For many of those living in the project’s path, who watched as its construction has so far triggered over 500 recorded violations of water quality and other regulations, it’s a terrible betrayal. But it also sets a dangerous precedent. It is safe to assume this won’t be the last time this tactic is pursued to shield fossil fuel projects from judicial review or scientific scrutiny, if they happen to be deemed by their developers and political allies to be in the “national interest.”

Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia has cited this risk in explaining his opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline provision. When Mr. Manchin succeeded in getting a similar carve-out attached to the continuing budget resolution to fund the government last September, Mr. Kaine refused to vote for it. “If the M.V.P. owners are unhappy with a court ruling, they should do what other litigants do and appeal,” he said. “Allowing them to fundamentally change federal law to achieve their goal would surely encourage other wealthy people and companies to try the same. I won’t participate in opening that door to abuse and even corruption.”

Mr. Kaine, along with other Democratic members of the Virginia congressional delegation, remains opposed; this week he said he’s against any debt-ceiling bill that exempts the Mountain Valley Pipeline from judicial review. Meanwhile one of the lead Republican negotiators told reporters this week the pipeline provision is a “huge win” for his party, because it puts “Democrats on record supporting a conventional energy project that removes or ties the hands of the judiciary.”

Democratic leaders will surely bristle at the suggestion that they are helping the gas industry obstruct the transition to clean energy. After all, they passed the Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant climate legislation in U.S. history, and protected its raft of clean energy incentives from cuts in the debt ceiling deal. It’s clear that the deal makers regard themselves as the grown-ups in the room, making the tough trade-offs needed to avert financial catastrophe. But when the stakes are this large, one need not grant them that deference.

There’s always a political “crisis” gathering on the near horizon that will supersede concerns about the climate — that will cause us to look away from the dizzying rise of methane concentrations, currently spiking to levels not seen in over 800,000 years, a trend tracking with the worst-case climate scenarios.

This is what it looks like to shuffle along toward climate chaos, one misguided “compromise” at a time.

[Mr. Mingle is an independent journalist at work on a book about the grass-roots and legal fights over new gas pipelines.]


NOTICE ~ Virginia Democrats Tim Kaine and Jennifer McClellan aren’t happy with the White House for not alerting them of the Mountain Valley Pipeline project’s inclusion in the debt ceiling deal — and they’re not hiding it.

From the Article by Nancy Vu and Josh Siegel, Politico dot com, May 30, 2023

What’s happening: Virginia Democrats are fuming about the inclusion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in the debt ceiling deal reached between House Republicans and the White House — but are aiming their ire at the Biden administration for not giving them a heads-up beforehand.

The details: Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) criticized the White House for not alerting the lawmaker about including the natural gas pipeline, which would run from northwestern West Virginia and cut through parts of his home state, in the debt limit proposal.

What he said: ~ “It’s extremely frustrating because there could have been other vehicles to do it. I mean, it doesn’t have to go into the debt ceiling bill. … [The White House doesn't] even bother to pick up the phone and call me. Have I made them mad? No, I’m the one they call to try and get cabinet secretaries confirmed. ‘Go talk to your colleagues. They’re not yet going to vote for Julie Su.’ … They call me and ask me to help out. So like, what did I do wrong?”

What he’s asking for: Kaine is requesting a vote on an amendment that would strip out the Mountain Valley Pipeline provision from the bill, arguing that if Republican senators get votes on their proposed amendments, he should be granted a vote as well.

“Look, if I get screwed by putting this thing in, and then we get [votes] only on Republican amendments and not on mine, I’m really going to be unhappy. So I should get an amendment on this.”

In the case the amendment fails — which is likely considering there isn’t enough Republican support to remove the pipeline project — Kaine stopped short of saying he would oppose the debt ceiling proposal.

Rep. Jennifer McClellan (D-Va.), who said she’s undecided on how she’ll vote on the debt ceiling bill, shared Kaine’s frustration on the lack of communication from the Biden administration. “[The White House] say they’ve just accelerated what was already going to happen,” McClellan told POLITICO. “If that’s the case, then why bother?”

McClellan is leading other Virginia Democrats in introducing an amendment in the House to strip the project from the bill. But fair warning: It’s likely to fail in the Republican-controlled House.

A spokesperson for Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) told the Washington Examiner that while the Virginia Democrat opposes the inclusion of the pipeline, the senator will ultimately vote for the debt ceiling deal.

Significance: Kaine has been publicly against Congress weighing in on the Mountain Valley Pipeline — including during a deal struck last year between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Manchin to allow for a vote to approve the pipeline and broader reforms speeding up approval of energy projects, in exchange for Manchin’s vote on Democrats’ sweeping climate and health bill. Kaine came out against the deal when it was floated for inclusion in a government spending bill in September 2022 — and yet again underlined that he was not consulted about the details of the measure.

“I strongly oppose the Mountain Valley Pipeline provision of this legislation, which would greenlight this pipeline without normal administrative and judicial review and ignore the voices of Virginians,” Kaine said then in a statement. “The pipeline runs through Virginia for 100 miles and takes property from landowners, but I was not consulted as a deal was struck to approve it and thus not given an opportunity to share my constituents’ deep concerns.”

Fast forward: Permitting reform, along with the pipeline, were successfully blocked from being attached to the September 2022 spending deal — and later failed to be included in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed late last year.

The debt bill, in addition to approving MVP, includes a handful of measures pushed by Republicans to ease permitting reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act.

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