DC Protests Highlight US Climate Opposition to Manchin Deal, World Bank Head

A pair of protests in the nation’s capital upped pressure on the President and Congress to stop enabling fossil fuel expansion in several arenas.
Black and white image of a man with bear and glasses, the left half of his face illuminated and the right half in shadow
Black and white image of a man with bear and glasses, the left half of his face illuminated and the right half in shadow
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More than two dozen activists hold signs protesting the Mountain Valley pipeline and Sen. Manchin's efforts to greenlight it, standing on the lawn by the US Capitol building.
A small but committed group of activists against the Mountain Valley pipeline rallied on September 27, 2022. The protest was organized by a coalition of environmental and progressive groups including Third Act, American Blue Ridge Alliance, and Our Revolution. Credit: Zach Roberts

Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C., dozens of activists rallied in two separate but related protests against what they see as climate science denial — first, controversial comments from the World Bank’s leader, and second, Senate plans to force through a gas pipeline and ease other energy project permitting.*

Author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, who spoke at both rallies, told DeSmog, “The thing we desperately need to do, according to every scientist, is use less fossil fuel. Why we would make it easier to build more fossil fuel projects, it’s just craziness. There’s no logical argument for it. Their only argument for it is ‘I’ve got enough money and political power to push it through.’ But that’s not an argument, that’s just power.”

Bill McKibben, in a t-shirt and ball cap, speaking at a microphone and looking left.
Bill McKibben, environmental activist and founder of Third Act, which organizes people over age 60 for action on climate and justice, speaks to a small rally in front of the World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C. on September 27. Credit: Zach Roberts

The protests were planned by two coalitions of environmental and progressive groups, including Third Act, American Blue Ridge Alliance, Our Revolution, Friends of the Earth US, Glasgow Actions Team, The Climate Reality Project, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Our Future WV, For All, and WV Coalition to End the Filibuster.

Bill McKibben on Sen. Manchin’s legislative efforts to bypass environmental review of the Mountain Valley pipeline and the uphill battle to overcome it. Credit: Zach Roberts

At first activists rallied at the World Bank headquarters to speak out against recent comments from the Trump-appointed World Bank head David Malpass. When asked during a public event last week if he believed in the connection between fossil fuels and climate change, Malpass responded, “I don’t even know. I’m not a scientist.” Climate activists are calling for Malpass’s resignation from the powerful global bank, which is tasked with reducing poverty by giving favorable loans to low-income nations and has not yet ended fossil fuel financing. The White House has since condemned the comments. 

Four young activists hold signs calling David Malpass a climate denier and calling for his resignation, on a DC city street outside the World Bank headquarters
Activists hold signs calling for the resignation of the World Bank head David Malpass. Credit: Zach Roberts

Next, protesters assembled at the east side of the U.S. Capitol, where they rallied to draw attention to Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-W.VA) efforts to push through the Mountain Valley pipeline. The fight against this fossil gas pipeline has been going on for years, with activists blocking work on it and protesting in Washington, D.C. The more than $6 billion pipeline, which has long been plagued by legal and regulatory hurdles, would run over 300 miles between West Virginia and Virginia, and in January, a court threw out the federal government’s approval of the pipeline’s route through a national forest. 

Pipeline opponents are saying that they’ve been thrown under the gas-guzzling bus by a side deal made with Sen. Manchin during the negotiations for the Inflation Recovery Act, which this summer passed billions of dollars to fight climate change.

A white bearded man in t-shirt and ball cap, speaks in front of a small crowd of anti-pipeline activists with signs in front of the US Capitol building
Peter Allen Johnson, center, tied the taking of Appalachians’ land for the Mountain Valley pipeline to the larger issue at hand, saying, “The corporations are taking the land through eminent domain. They even want to take over the climate and ruin the climate.” Credit: Zach Roberts

Peter Allen Johnson of the American Blue Ridge Alliance and Christians for the Mountains compared the fight against the pipeline to a biblical story. Johnson recalled the story of Naboth the Jezreelite, who owned an ancestral vineyard which a king demanded he turn over but Naboth refused. The king’s wife Queen Jezebel — whom Johnson compared to Senator Joe Manchin — then successfully conspired to obtain the vineyard from Naboth through illegitimate means. 

Manchin’s deal, which would be tacked onto a continuing resolution to fund the federal government, has been shepherded by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and would allow accelerated timelines for environmental review of projects like the Mountain Valley pipeline. A statement on the legislation released from Manchin’s office specifically calls for the “Authorization of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.” It also “requires the President to designate and prioritize reviews for a list of [25] strategically important energy and mineral projects…” essentially forcing the hand of the President to allow continued large-scale fossil fuel projects. The bill would allow expedited environmental review for renewable projects as well.

Poster on a light post base shows cartoon of Joe Manchin dancing in hand with an oil drum and text Would You Trust This Guy to Put People Over Polluter Profits, and Stop Manchin's #DirtyDeal
In Washington, D.C., opposition has been unfolding for weeks against Senator Manchin’s fossil fuel-friendly proposal. Credit: Zach Roberts

The proposal also goes after the Clean Water Act’s power to object to federal authorization of major projects, such as oil and gas infrastructure, according to Brett Hartl of the Center for Biological Diversity. In a statement Hartl said, “We don’t need to gut the Clean Water Act and other bedrock environmental laws to build out wind and solar energy.” 

Both West Virginia Senators have received at least $10,000 in donations from the PAC of the company that will eventually run the pipeline, Equitrans Midstream, according to OpenSecrets. In addition, Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) has thousands of dollars of investments in NextEra Energy Inc., one of the companies building the pipeline. Both Sens. Manchin and Schumer have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from fossil gas companies, including more than $280,000 going to Schumer and nearly $60,000 to Manchin from NextEra during this election cycle.  

From the Frontlines of the Mountain Valley Pipeline Battle

Woman with graying reddish hair wears sunglasses and t-shirt, speaking in front of US Capitol building
Theresa “Red” Terry did a tree sit-in for weeks on her land trying to prevent the Mountain Valley pipeline construction. Credit: Zach Roberts

Theresa “Red” Terry used to have red hair but she says due to the stress of the last eight years she has spent fighting against this pipeline, her hair has lost its original color. She lives on a Roanoke County, Virginia farm that’s been in her husband’s family for seven generations; it was reportedly granted to them by the king of England before the United States even existed. But that land is slated to have the Mountain Valley pipeline pass through it, and Terry spent weeks in a tree on this land in protest in 2018. She explained that this project meant that a “42 inch fracked gas pipeline [is] going to be 1400 pounds of pressure going through my backyard up hills.”

Mountain Valley pipeline opponent Red Terry describes safety and environmental concerns about the fossil gas pipeline’s path through steep hills and challenging topography in Appalachia. Credit: Zach Roberts

At today’s protest over the pipeline at the U.S. Capitol, Terry told DeSmog of terror campaigns that the pipeline companies allegedly have been committing against residents along the project’s path: shooting guns in the sky at night and setting off dynamite charges when none were supposed to occur. She’s most worried about the water in this section of Appalachia. “If they blow up the water here, that interrupts the flow of the water and sends it somewhere else. So you’re affecting people’s farms, their wells, the wildlife.” 

Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) told Politico last week that he wasn’t part of the conversation on the pipeline that would pass through his state (known as MVP). “All I have said is, I am deeply opposed to the MVP provision, and frankly I think it would open a door that we do not want to open.” While voicing concern, Sen. Kaine did not seem prepared for a fight that could blow up the federal spending bill that’s close to passing. “I’m not a threat-style person,” he said. “Let me tell you where I am. Let me tell you what I think about this. Can we solve it?”

However, Red Terry says she is hoping that her senator will stand up for her interests in the pipeline battle. If he doesn’t, she warns, he’ll hear from her.

*Update 9/27/2022 4:19 p.m. Pacific: Sen. Manchin today withdrew his energy proposal from the government spending bill after bipartisan opposition, including from Sen. Kaine, scuttled its chances of passing. “I stand ready to work with my colleagues to move forward on this critical legislation to meet the challenges of delivering affordable reliable energy Americans desperately need,” Manchin wrote. “Inaction is not a strategy for energy independence and security.”

According to The New York Times, Sen. Schumer “said he would continue to work toward passage of the energy plan before the end of the year.”

Climate advocates welcomed the news of the proposal’s demise. “Over the last few weeks, frontline leaders with a mass movement behind them have made clear the incredible dangers and deceptive political maneuvering around Manchin’s fossil fuel fast tracking bill,” May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org, said in a statement. “We have more work to do but today we breathe a sigh of relief.”

Black and white image of a man with bear and glasses, the left half of his face illuminated and the right half in shadow
Zach D. Roberts is a photojournalist covering the far right in America and is a Puffin Foundation artist.

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