Please join us to stop Senator Manchin’s proposed pipeline fast track deal!See action and details below.
We need to ask our Congressmembers, especially Rep. Jayapal and Smith to come out and publicly oppose Senator Manchin’s dangerous fossil fuel proposal!
From Food & Water Action
Following the steps in our Letter Delivery Toolkit, please deliver to your U.S. Rep:
- This letter, as well as these supporting materials:
- Leaked draft proposal from Sen Manchin
- Sign on letter opposing Manchin’s deal signed by over 650 organizationsFrom the Center for Biological Diversity: What’s wrong with this bill?
This Legislation is an Environmental Justice Disaster
The proposal fast tracks fossil fuel development at the expense of frontline communities by shortening timelines for consideration of permit applications under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA) and shortchanging opportunities for public comment.
- NEPA is a bedrock environmental law that helps ensure federal agencies fully assess the effects of proposed actions on people and the environment. The legislation sets maximum timelines for NEPA review, including two years for reviews for “major projects” and one year for “lower-impact” projects.
- Limiting timeframes for NEPA review will prevent robust and effective environmental justice analysis, which could result in the inability of lead agencies to ‘address the disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their actions on minority and low-income populations,’ pursuant to Executive Order 12898.
- The CWA Section 401 certification process is a critically important way that states can ensure federal projects will not harm the environment. But the legislation truncates this review, establishing rigid deadlines for approval and preventing states and tribes from objecting to fossil fuel projects on broader climate and environmental grounds.
- For example, Oregon denied water quality certification for the Jordan Cove LNG Project, resulting in cancelation of the project. Washington denied 401 certification for the Longview Bulk Terminals coal export facility. New York also rejected certification for the Constitution pipeline. Any weakening of these critical programs is cause for grave concern.
Reducing the amount of time for environmental reviews on complex projects can only be achieved by one of two options – (1) reducing the quality of the environmental review (2) reducing the amount of time and the number of chances the public can weigh in.
Artificial deadlines also truncate tribal consultations, make it far less likely that disproportionately impacted communities have their voices heard, and make it harder for the public writ large to weigh in. For example, the climate justice community has often requested (and received) comment period extensions from BOEM and BLM for energy-related projects in Alaska which occurred during the subsistence seasons for impacted communities. Proper consultation would have been impossible without those extensions.
The legislation also limits judicial review by imposing a new maximum 150 day statute of limitations to challenge authorization of energy projects. Preventing legal challenges, NEPA & otherwise, to energy projects unless made 5 months after project approval harms frontline communities because it can be very difficult to determine what legal violations have occurred just five months after a project is approved. It can also be difficult for disproportionately impacted communities to even hire legal representation.
Permitting Reform Is Designed Solely to Benefit the Fossil Fuel Industry
This is a dirty deal designed to fast track fossil fuels, not renewable energy projects. These provisions are intended to push fossil fuel projects through without adequate consideration of harms to the environment and affected communities.
- The legislation would require the President to prioritize 25 projects for the truncated environmental review. Of these 25, the legislation requires 19 fossil fuel or mining projects to be expedited, while 6 expedited projects would focus on energy generation “without the use of fossil fuels.”
Within these 6 projects, Manchin’s definition would allow false solutions such as biomass and methane to be prioritized rather than true renewable energy projects. In fact, Manchin’s legislation does not use the word “renewable,” “solar” or “wind” at all because Sen. Manchin is extremely hostile to renewable energy. No renewable energy projects may benefit at all from this side deal.
Renewable energy projects (onshore wind, solar, offshore wind, etc) are overwhelmingly approved on time through the NEPA process. NEPA isn’t the roadblock to infrastructure projects that industry scaremongers make it out to be.
- Only one out of every 450 NEPA reviews are challenged in court.
- The Gemini Solar project in Nevada was approved in roughly two years, and the NEPA environmental impact statement took only 14 months. The project successfully secured funding this year and it is scheduled for completion in 2023.
- While the Crimson Solar project in California took nearly 12 years to approve, the NEPA environmental review process was completed in just 2 years. The delays in the project were caused by other obstacles.
- The Vineyard Wind project’s approval process has taken 3.3 years and all federal environmental permitting was completed in just 1.3 years.
- Large renewable energy projects have been eligible under the Federal Permitting Council and the Fast-41 Act for expedited review and approval. The Biden Administration has already put together a Permitting Action Plan that would help fast track clean energy and other important projects in a more responsible and environmentally appropriate way, so there’s no need for Congress to act.
- Fossil fuel projects often take longer to approve and are much more likely to be rejected by the courts because fossil fuel projects have a far greater potential for environmental harm (harm to EJ communities, toxic pollution, oil spills, gas leaks, etc). Federal agencies are likely to try to paper over and ignore those impacts while failing to properly assess the cumulative impacts from GHG emissions.
- Environmental reviews slow down due to lack of funding for the federal agencies and changes in the proposal by the private entity, which require additional analysis. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act both provide funding for additional staff. If we want to move even faster, we shouldn’t be weakening environmental laws, but investing more resources into the agencies and staff who can help get these projects built in a responsible way. Consistent funding through the appropriation process must also occur to ensure environmental reviews are not delays.
A report by the Treasury Department identified 40 economically significant infrastructure projects and found that it is a lack of consistent public funding that is the most common factor hindering these projects.
Expanding Fossil Fuels Threatens Climate Catastrophe
The legislation requires the President to include fossil fuel projects on a list of 25 energy projects of strategic national importance. Specifically, the list requires the president to prioritize permitting for 5 fossil fuel and biofuel projects for the next 7 years. Climate science dictates Biden cannot approve ANY new fossil fuel projects, and unfortunately, many of the most popular biofuels are actually harmful for our climate.
- In addition to the 5 fossil fuel and biofuel projects, the legislation also mandates permitting prioritization for 2 Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) projects over the next 7 years. CCS technology remains unproven and allows the fossil fuel industry to continue production under the guise of emission reductions. Currently, most captured CO2 is used in oil drilling, negating any climate benefit. CCS also does not stop the harm fossil fuels cause in communities.
- These provisions mandate the President continue to promote and prioritize fossil fuel projects for at least 10 years. Approving new projects would lock us into either decades of pollution or stranded assets. However, the President retains his ability to deny these project’s federal permits.
Building the Mountain Valley Pipeline alone would undermine international goals to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. According to an Oil Change International analysis, MVP would lead to annual emissions of over 89 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. This would be like adding 26 coal plants or 19 million passenger vehicles per year.
Promoting the Mountain Valley Pipeline Sacrifices Appalachian Communities and Undermines Climate Goals
This legislation attempts to force completion of the construction of the 303-mile fracked-gas Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) through the steep slopes and forests of West Virginia and Virginia. Originally proposed to cost $3.4 billion and be completed in 2018, the pipeline is only 56% complete to restoration with costs now exceeding $6.5 billion and no end in sight.
MVP construction has made Appalachian communities sacrifice zones. These communities are already hurting. Just earlier this year, dozens of people died in climate-fueled flooding in Appalachia.
Construction has led to over 300 water quality violations in Virginia and nearly 50 violations in West Virginia due to improper sediment and erosion control, and MVP has accumulated over $2.5 million in fines. MVP crosses over nearly 1,000 streams and wetlands and still lacks necessary permits for more than 400 water crossings through sensitive public lands.
- MVP construction could also cause numerous imperiled species to go extinct. Federal courts have repeatedly thrown out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinions for inadequate analysis of impacts to species.
- A legislative directive to complete the project puts pressure on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve the project’s latest extension request and ignore the significant ongoing impacts of the project. Dramatic shifts in the energy landscape and substantial new information regarding the need for the pipeline’s capacity have undermined the Commission’s now nearly five-year-old finding that market demand supports a finding of public convenience and necessity. Substantial new information on MVP’s environmental impacts are at odds with the Commission’s findings that the project is an environmentally acceptable action. FERC must analyze these new circumstances and information in evaluating the latest extension request. The proposal could prevent this needed analysis from happening in a meaningful way.
- The proposal egregiously strips the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals of jurisdiction over MVP-related litigation. The Fourth Circuit has repeatedly blocked pipeline construction because of impacts to wildlife, waters, and national forest lands. Future challenges would have to be heard in the D.C. Circuit, which handles the bulk of FERC cases and often sides with the agency. This court-stripping provision is solely intended to give MVP a potentially-friendlier court venue.
New information not considered in the Commission’s previous NEPA analysis and Natural Gas Act public interest findings presents a seriously different picture of the project’s environmental impacts than previously painted. Climate justice groups and frontline leaders have collected significant evidence of the harm Mountain Valley Pipeline’s construction has caused. For instance, a review of not previously publicly available state inspection reports revealed at least 1,500 erosion and sedimentation violations between May, 2018 to October, 2021.
The Dirty Oil Deal Interferes with Judicial & Agency Review of Harmful Fossil Fuel Projects
The legislation requires random assignment of judges that hear all cases involving projects requiring environmental review. This provision ensures that a judge or panel that previously ruled against a project cannot hear subsequent challenges. It’s another attempt to stack the legal deck in favor of fossil fuel interests.
When climate justice groups succeed in litigation, courts may remand or vacate a federal permit for the project and tell the federal permitting agency to reconsider its decision. But provisions in this legislation would limit the time agencies can act following a remand to 180 days. This unreasonably short deadline will make it impossible for agencies to conduct additional needed review and properly correct their mistakes. For example, in the fight against the Willow project, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was ordered to re-do their environmental analysis. BLM took nearly a year to re-do their analysis. Agencies should have the time required to thoroughly investigate the harms fossil fuel projects can cause.
The 180 day deadline undermines courts’ authority to issue meaningful remedies for violations and could actually increase litigation if courts are forced to hear and re-hear agency decisions made too quickly to satisfy statutory requirements.