Exhaust Joe Manchin and his fossil fuel allies

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YesWe are burning people out,” Sen. Joe Manchin complained during a March 4 hearing of the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs. The West Virginia senator, who reportedly receives $500,000 a year from the coal company he founded and is now run by his son, was chastising three commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the little-known and extremely power that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, methane gas and petroleum. FERC approval is required before private companies can install an oil or gas pipeline, build a liquefied natural gas terminal, or build other types of fossil fuel infrastructure. In the past, this approval has almost always been given: since 1999, FERC has approved 99% of gas industry project applications, which is no small reason why the planet is dangerously overheating.

Manchin was angry because FERC had recently flagged a potential course change. On February 17, the five commissioners whose decisions establish FERC policy adopted a new policy: before FERC makes a decision on any given project, an impact study would be required. FERC would assess the effect of the proposed project on landowners and local communities, including low-income communities where people of color often predominate, as well as the effect of the project on the broader environment and climate change. specifically.

The vote adopting the new policy was close: 3 to 2, with the three Democratic commissioners winning over the two Republicans. During his committee hearing, Manchin directed his anger at the three Democratic commissioners. “There is a policy by some of death by a thousand cuts in the fossil fuel industry,” he said, before warning that the new FERC rule threatened the energy security and economic prosperity of United States. If their projects were to pass such a community and environmental impact assessment, Manchin added, private companies might not pursue the projects in the first place. “I know these people,” he said, in an inadvertently revealing comment. “They are not going to invest. They will go away. »

Getting away is, of course, what the latest science says is imperative to avoiding catastrophic climate change. The International Energy Agency, a bulwark of the global establishment, said in May 2021 that limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius means no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built: no new gas pipelines, no new LNG terminals and no new coal mines. or power plants. The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released on April 4, says the same thing.

FERC’s new rule is a far cry from the position of the IEA or the IPCC, but it’s still too much for Manchin and his fossil fuel allies. Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah, for example, lambasted FERC for its so-called “radical climate agenda.” He added, “Maybe we’re better off without FERC. Maybe we should eliminate it.

As a veteran climate and social justice activist who attended the hearing panel chaired by Manchin, I take these comments as a sign that our side is beginning to turn the tide. For years, activists have hammered FERC for its blatant pro-industry bias and the resulting escalation of the climate crisis — a bias, it should be noted, that has persisted under administrations. Democrats and Republicans. By law, FERC is supposed to regulate energy development in the service of “the public interest.” Activists have accused FERC of instead serving the corporate interest or, more accurately, equating the corporate interest with the public interest. Now that the three Democrats on the committee have recognized that the true public interest must be considered, the days of FERC approving every fossil fuel project proposed by private companies may be coming to an end.

But the battle is far from over. Manchin and many others are now using the war in Ukraine and the accompanying energy crisis as a pretext for their “drill, baby, drill” agenda. The Biden administration seems sympathetic to their arguments. On April 15, he announced that oil and gas leasing for 144,000 acres of federal public land would resume. It was done even as Biden rightly said the Ukraine crisis is yet another reason the US needs to ditch fossil fuels – and the resulting reliance on oil states – for switch to clean energy.

Picking up on Manchin’s petulant signal, we activists plan to continue to “burn out” the fossil fuel sellers. We will continue to march, file petitions, attend hearings, speak out, commit civil disobedience – but not violence – to persuade these people and institutions to “walk away”, as Manchin, of their destructive projects. Given the rise of wind, solar and battery storage in this country and around the world, there is reason to believe that if our movement continues and continues to grow, there is hope. for the rapid and urgent shift away from polluting fossil fuels.

On April 9, for example, hundreds of movement activists attempted to block Grant Town Power Plant, a facility in Grant, W.Va., that processes the coal waste it receives from Enersystems, the company owned by Manchin’s son. The West Virginia Rising grassroots group organized the blockade with the support of many other groups like Beyond Extreme Energy (for which I volunteer) and the Poor People’s Campaign, whose Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II gave a rousing speech then that the police were arresting demonstrators:

It’s time for a change in West Virginia. Manchin swore he would defend the Constitution against foreign and domestic enemies. He broke that oath. Instead of establishing justice, he established injustice at every turn. He decided that the United States Chamber of Commerce program is better than the people of West Virginia and the United States. At every turn, he chose money and greed.

Next month, a “March for the Future of Appalachia” will cross West Virginia, raising the voices of local activists demanding the cancellation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile-long fractured gas pipeline project crossing Virginia- West, Virginia and North Carolina. that Manchin supports.

And after? You will have to wait and see. But I can promise you this: Coal baron Joe Manchin and his cronies aren’t going to like it much.

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