'No more excuses': Climate advocates push Joe Biden to nix pipeline to counter Joe Manchin's obstruction

'No more excuses': Climate advocates push Joe Biden to nix pipeline to counter Joe Manchin's obstruction
Image via Jeanne Menjoulet.

President Joe Biden on Friday faced calls to respond forcefully to Sen. Joe Manchin's latest climate obstruction by canceling a fracked gas pipeline in the right-wing Democrat's home state of West Virginia, a move that would prevent around 90 million metric tons of new greenhouse gas emissions from being spewed into the atmosphere each year.

Manchin, a close ally of the fossil fuel industry and a coal profiteer in his own right, has been a vocal proponent of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a project that—if completed—would carry gas along a 300-mile course spanning from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia.

In an April statement, Manchin called the pipeline "a strategically important project" and pushed the administration to ensure its "full approval."

Dana Nuccitelli, research coordinator for the Citizens' Climate Lobby, tweeted Thursday that the Biden administration should instead "immediately terminate the Mountain Valley Pipeline and curtail offshore drilling," something Manchin also favors.

The demand came after Manchin—who has received more campaign donations from the oil and gas industry than any other member of Congress this election cycle—reportedly informed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) during a closed-door meeting Thursday that he would not support any renewable energy spending or tax increases targeting the wealthy.

The West Virginia Democrat, an essential swing vote who has been dragging out and sabotaging negotiations for more than a year, claimed Friday that he wants to wait until after July inflation figures are released next month to decide whether to back legislation that includes new climate funding.

In a statement to Common Dreams, Nuccitelli said that "with the Supreme Court having limited EPA's ability to regulate climate pollutants and Sen. Manchin having prevented the current session of Congress from passing meaningful climate legislation, there are few remaining pathways for the Biden administration to come close to meeting America's 2030 Paris commitment."

"As Sen. Whitehouse put it, 'it's now time for executive Beast Mode' on climate," said Nuccitelli. "That includes curtailing new fossil fuel projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would not only create adverse local environmental impacts, including to the Appalachian Trail, but would lock in decades of additional climate pollution, including in the form of methane leakage. West Virginians would be better served by pursuing clean energy projects than climate-polluting pipelines."

The multibillion-dollar Mountain Valley project has been bogged down in regulatory and court battles for years as advocates and Indigenous groups warn it would endanger key waterways and forest land.

Oil Change International and Bold Alliance estimated in a 2017 analysis that the completed pipeline would produce 89,526,651 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, the equivalent of 26 coal plants or 19 million passenger vehicles.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has nevertheless granted permission for construction of the pipeline to move forward even as it awaits key government authorizations. Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC recently asked FERC for a four-year permit extension to complete the fracked gas project.

Earlier this week, The Washington Postreported that the Biden administration was exploring a potential arrangement under which federal officials would grant approval to the Mountain Valley pipeline and other fossil fuel projects in exchange for Manchin's support for limited renewable energy investments.

Climate advocates were highly critical of such a trade-off, warning it would ultimately harm the planet. After Thursday's meeting between Manchin and Schumer, environmentalists said Biden should shift his focus to what he can do unilaterally to slash carbon emissions and stave off climate catastrophe.

"It is time for President Biden to declare a national climate emergency and deploy his executive powers to dawn the renewable and just energy future," Jean Su, director of the Energy Justice Program at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Common Dreams in an email.

"The Biden administration has shown the promise of bold executive action through the president's recent use of the Defense Production Act to galvanize domestic solar power manufacturing," Su noted. "There is a vast menu of powers he has to enact bold climate action, like banning crude oil exports, stopping fossil fuel extraction, and leveraging federal programs to speedily deploy renewable, affordable, and resilient energy systems."

Ashley Thomson, senior climate campaigner at Greenpeace USA, stressed that given the intensifying impacts of the climate emergency in the present, the Biden administration doesn't have time to cater to Manchin's preferred schedule.

"Manchin has proven once again that he doesn't care about the planetary destruction that will cause immeasurable death. When the floods come, I hope they carry away his yacht first," said Thomson. "President Biden has no more excuses. He must start using his executive powers to full effect if we're going to make any progress in preventing the worst climate disasters in our country."

"Right now he's letting Big Oil-funded politicians kill the planet when he has the power to get us on track," Thomson added. "We cannot continue to wait around for a bunch of corporate shills in Congress to do nothing while people are dying."

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