'Climate disaster': Green critics rip Joe Manchin's fossil fuel side deal

'Climate disaster': Green critics rip Joe Manchin's fossil fuel side deal
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Economy

The so-called "side deal" negotiated by Sen. Joe Manchin and the Democratic leadership faced growing backlash from climate organizations on Thursday after a draft copy of the legislation confirmed that the proposal would help accelerate approval of fossil fuel projects, potentially including a fracked gas pipeline running through West Virginia.

On Wednesday, Bloomberg obtained a copy of draft legislative language that has been circulating among lawmakers and lobbyists. The document is watermarked "Draft — API," the acronym for the American Petroleum Institute, an influential oil and gas industry lobbying group.

Bloomberg noted that "API has had discussions with Manchin staff about the permitting overhaul, and the July 19 date of the document lines up with those discussions, Frank J. Macchiarola, the organization's senior vice president of policy, economics, and regulatory affairs, said in an interview."

Macchiarola told the outlet that API—whose members include ExxonMobil, Chevron, and other oil giants that stand to benefit from the deal—didn't "write or edit" the draft.

The side agreement was reached as part of Democrats' effort to win Manchin's support for the Inflation Reduction Act, a reconciliation package that includes investments in renewable energy as well as major handouts to the fossil fuel industry, which helps fund the West Virginia Democrat's campaigns.

The permitting deal, which is separate from the reconciliation bill, is expected to receive a vote later this year.

Citing the "API" watermark, Food and Water Watch (FWW) policy director Jim Walsh tweeted Thursday that "the fossil fuel industry's fingerprints [are] literally all over Manchin's permitting side deal."

As FWW summarized in a press release after reviewing the text, the draft proposal "aims to fast track a variety of environmental and public safety reviews for major infrastructure projects, and requires the president to create a list of at least 25 projects deemed to be of 'strategic national importance' that would be subject to the review."

That project list would be updated every six months, noted FWW, which dubbed the proposal a "climate disaster."

"The draft requires that at least five of the priority items 'shall be projects to produce, process, transport, or store fossil fuel products, or biofuels, including projects to export or import those products," the group continued. "Two of the priority projects should be devoted to the 'capture, transport, or store carbon dioxide, which may include the utilization of captured or displaced carbon dioxide emissions.' This fossil fuel prioritization continues well past 2030, requiring at least three projects to be fossil fuel oriented while allowing greater discretion to add more to the priority list."

Walsh argued in a statement that "this should no longer be considered a 'side deal,' it is the main event for fossil fuel polluters that have pushed to weaken environmental reviews."

"Any future White House that seeks to do special favors for the fossil fuel industry would have broad executive authority to force the construction of new fracking pipelines, power plants, and methane export facilities," Walsh said. "It would also hamstring the White House in efforts to curtail new fossil fuel infrastructure development sufficient to meet agreed upon climate goals."

"Creating new wind and solar tax credits while giving fossil fuel polluters a green light is the ultimate devil's bargain," he added. "Lawmakers must speak up strongly and swiftly against this massive rollback of public health and environmental protections that will fast track fossil fuel projects."

Jean Su, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Energy Justice Program, also slammed the agreement in a statement to Reuters.

"The price to be paid for Manchin's vote looks more and more like an oil and gas wish list," said Su. "This backroom deal threatens communities and the environment, while shunting aside state and tribal input."

While the draft text doesn't specifically mention the Mountain Valley Pipeline—a top priority of Manchin's—Bloomberg reported that "there is every expectation that the Mountain Valley Pipeline provisions will be in the final bill text."

The pipeline, which could generate an estimated 89.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year if completed, was mentioned in a one-page summary of the Manchin agreement unveiled earlier this week.

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