By Kenny Stancil, Common Dreams. Originally published on Common Dreams.
Climate campaigners were arrested on Thursday after demonstrating outside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) Manhattan office, where they expressed opposition to the fossil fuel-friendly permitting reforms the New York Democrat agreed to bring to the floor to secure Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) support for the Inflation Reduction Act.
“Sen. Schumer is sacrificing frontline communities and our clean energy future, all to placate a coal baron,” Food & Water Watch senior New York organizer Laura Shindell, one of 10 activists taken into custody, said in a statement.
In addition to those who were arrested while conducting a peaceful sit-in at Schumer’s office, dozens of others participated in Thursday’s action, holding signs telling the majority leader to “Stop the Dirty Pipeline Deal” and “Off Fossil Fuels.”
Last month, in a bid to gain Manchin’s support for the climate, tax, and healthcare package that congressional Democrats recently passed through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process and President Joe Biden signed into law on Tuesday, Schumer held closed-door negotiations with the serial obstructionist.
In exchange for Manchin’s backing on the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Schumer agreed to hold a separate vote on a bill that would advance permitting changes sought by the long-time coal profiteer and Capitol Hill’s leading recipient of oil and gas money this election cycle.
According to a leaked one-page summary, the side deal would weaken environmental review procedures and limit public input on infrastructure decisions, thereby expediting new fossil fuel projects — including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a fracked gas development that Manchin’s constituents and other Appalachian residents have been fighting for five years — even as experts warn that averting the worst effects of the climate crisis requires an end to new oil and gas extraction.
“Schumer’s dirty side deal is a lose-lose-lose for our frontline communities and our climate, shortcutting the federal agencies and public processes meant to protect us and fast-tracking dangerous fossil fuel projects,” said Shindell. “Sen. Schumer must reverse course on the dirty pipeline deal and recommit to preserving a livable future.”
During Thursday’s protest, a member of No North Brooklyn Pipeline questioned the sincerity of Schumer’s stated opposition to pipelines in New York given that the agreement he reached with Manchin could make it easier to build them.
Because the proposed permitting legislation contains provisions that fall outside the purview of the budget reconciliation process used to pass the IRA, it must be pursued separately. A vote is expected in September, and passage of the bill is far from a foregone conclusion.
Frontline communities have urged Congress to reject the side agreement, and progressive lawmakers have made clear that they are under no obligation to support it.
In a recent statement, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) said that “we will be united in defeating the separate Manchin ‘permitting reforms’ that will accelerate climate change and pollute Black, brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities.”
“Now that the IRA has passed,” she added, “there is absolutely zero reason that Congress should follow through on a backdoor handshake deal that directly undermines the purpose of the IRA. Manchin went back on his word to get [Build Back Better] done, and we owe him nothing now.”
350NYC organizer Shayok Mukhopadhyay on Thursday called the IRA’s claim to reduce peak U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 42 percent by 2040 “debatable, given questionable methane accounting.”
“What is not debatable,” said Mukhopadhyay, “is that even this 42 percent does not account for the side deal struck between Sens. Manchin and Schumer to fast-track pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure in a separate bill.”
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) “has expressed concern that this bill may be tied together with other must-pass legislation to incentivize legislators to vote in its favor,” Mukhopadhyay noted. “This kind of backroom dealing that sacrifices the health of frontline communities and the stability of our climate must stop.”
Grijalva, the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, is pushing for a standalone vote on the permitting bill. “We’re going to start early to urge a separate vote,” he told The Hill last week.
Rachel Rivera, a survivor of Hurricane Sandy who works with New York Communities for Change, said Thursday that “as long as Sen. Chuck Schumer continues to acquiesce to Sen. Joe Manchin’s dirty side deals that destroy bedrock climate protections, families like mine will continue to suffer.”
“It’s time,” she continued, “for Sen. Schumer to block this ‘permitting reform’ proposal and protect our climate and communities, not ExxonMobil.”