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A Dirty Debt Deal: Biden Blasted for Backing Fast-Track Approval of Mountain Valley Pipeline

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As lawmakers push through the bipartisan deal to raise the debt limit, it is being called a “dirty debt ceiling deal” by opponents because it includes language meant to speed completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The controversial $6.6 billion pipeline would go through Virginia and West Virginia and carry 2 billion cubic feet of fracked gas across more than a thousand streams and wetlands in Appalachia. Over 750 frontline communities and environmental justice organizations oppose its construction, but the project has long had the backing of powerful West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, the biggest recipient of fossil fuel money in Congress. “They can’t build this pipeline and follow the law,” says Maury Johnson, a West Virginian who lives in the path of the massive pipeline and says approval of the deal would show corporations they can simply “throw a bunch of money to politicians” in order to overcome environmental concerns and local opposition from residents.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show looking at how the proposed bipartisan debt limit deal the House is voting on today could cut funds for the Environmental Protection Agency and speed completion of the controversial $6.6 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia.

Over 750 frontline communities and environmental justice groups oppose the pipeline. This comes as protests in several cities demanded lawmakers vote down what they are calling the “dirty debt ceiling deal.”

If built, the proposed MVP — that’s Mountain Valley Pipeline — will carry 2 billion cubic feet of fracked gas across more than a thousand streams and wetlands of Appalachia.

It has long been pushed by powerful West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, the biggest recipient of fossil fuel money in Congress.

Meanwhile, the entire Virginia Democratic delegation in the House has submitted an amendment to the strip the Mountain Valley Pipeline provision from the debt ceiling bill, calling it a “free pass for the pipeline” that “sidesteps our nation’s environmental laws and judicial review processes.” Virginia Senator Tim Kaine says he’ll introduce an identical amendment in the Senate.

Well, for more, we’re joined in Washington, D.C., by a West Virginian who lives in the path of this massive pipeline. Maury Johnson is a southern West Virginia landowner whose organic farm has already been impacted by the Mountain Valley Pipeline. He’s a member of Preserve Monroe, as well as the POWHR Coalition — that is, Protect Our Water, Heritage and Rights Coalition. Both groups have been opposing MVP. His new essay for Common Dreams is headlined “It Is Time to Kill the 'Dirty Deal' Once and For All.”

Maury Johnson, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Why are you so concerned about the passage of the debt deal, the lifting the debt ceiling, including a final approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline?

MAURY JOHNSON: Thank you. Good morning, Amy. Thanks for having me.

So, this debt ceiling deal has a lot of things in it that should be nowhere near a debt ceiling deal. Especially the student loan thing is really bad. My son’s a recipient of student loans, and it’s just a crushing thing. But as far as the permitting and the Mountain Valley pipe exclusion from law, it’s — we have been telling the people permitting this and the people building this for eight years that they can’t build this pipeline and follow the law. And it’s been proven in court numerous times. So they just want to circumvent the law.

I’m what a sacrifice looks like. If this deal goes through, this dirty deal of Joe Manchin’s pet project, Mountain Valley Pipeline, everybody in America needs to look in the mirror and say, “I can be sacrificed also.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Maury, could you — for those people who are not familiar with this 303-mile proposed pipeline, how directly would it affect not only Monroe County but the entire path of the pipeline? What are your major concerns about it?

MAURY JOHNSON: Well, we have documented many things, all along the pipeline path, from the very beginning in northern West Virginia, in Mobley, across some very steep slopes, the steepest that’s probably ever been crossed in Appalachia, and slope-prone soils that’s in central West Virginia and southern West Virginia, and even in southwest Virginia. We’re in an earthquake zone, one of the most active earthquake zones in the East, and we have actually had some minor earthquakes during the construction of this pipeline. We know that the methane that leaks all along the pipeline is harmful to the climate.

It’s already impacted a lot of people’s water, including my own. I actually have not been able to use my water since 2021. I started having pretty severe — because I’m in karst, and that’s, for people — that’s caves and sinkholes. Now, they’ll say, “Well, you got to prove that.” And they have an army of attorneys. So, I suspect, very strongly suspect, that this damage was done once they blasted near my house.

There’s just so many problems with this pipeline. The eminent domain issues, where they just take — could take whatever they want. They’ve never really proven that it’s for the use of the people in this country. Former Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, in 2017, said she’d only seen where a small portion of this was actually being used. They use something called a precedent agreement, where the pipeline company, the people building the pipeline, can sell the capacity on the pipeline to themselves — affiliate to themselves. And that’s all that FERC has said is needed.

One other thing, the day before Earth Day, President Biden issued an executive order saying that environmental justice for all is the priority of his administration. He cannot say that and permit things like the Willow project, the more LNG projects in the Gulf Coast and more pipelines across Appalachia.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you — a spokesperson for Mountain Valley Pipeline, Natalie Cox, told the Mountain State Spotlight, and I’m quoting her there, “The [MVP] project, along with all submitted plans and processes, have undergone rigorous review and evaluation for more years, and in many cases, has been subject to a level of scrutiny that is unprecedented for a project of this nature.” How do you respond to her comments?

MAURY JOHNSON: It has received lots of scrutiny, and the courts has struck down their permits, because they cannot follow the law. I don’t know how many different agencies — West Virginia, Virginia, federal agencies — have tried to change the law, weaken the law, to permit this project. Permitting should not — for any project, should not be weakened and fast-tracked. If they had followed the law and followed our bedrock environmental and Endangered Species Act, this project may not have ever been started, to begin with, or would have just drastically been changed. So, yes, and even the 4th — the D.C. Circuit just last Friday questioned FERC on: Why did you issue a two-year extension back in 2020 without doing a supplemental environmental impact statement?

This project has been very poorly designed from the very beginning, and we have told them so many, many, many times. And all they do is pay more legislators. If this project is added to the dirty — to this debt ceiling, then that just will violate constitutional law. It will end democracy for people, for citizens being able to say, “This is wrong. You can’t do this.” All that corporations would have to do is throw a bunch of money to politicians. The corporations get rich, the politicians get rich, and the people and the citizens of the country are sacrificed.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a comment of Crystal Cavalier-Keck. We spoke to her last year. She’s chair of the NAACP Environmental Justice Committee and a member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, talking about how the MVP threatens sacred burial grounds.

CRYSTAL CAVALIER-KECK: So, the map, it starts in West Virginia, and it goes through the mountaintops. And on these mountaintops are our sacred burial grounds of our Monacan, Saponi and Occaneechi nations. And, you know, the MVP, they call these burial mounds “rock piles,” and they often say these do not exist, which often makes us — they’re trying to extinct us or genocide us again. But it’s going through these very sacred mountains, going through waters, boring under rivers — and these sacred waters of, like, the Roanoke, the Dan and the Haw River, which is very sacred to my tribe and my community.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, can you comment, Maury, on what Cavalier-Keck is saying, and also the very stringent rules that are being set forth in this deal that would really take power away from the courts, where environmentalists have been having a series of victories against the MVP, and demand that it be approved within, what, 21 days of signing?

MAURY JOHNSON: Yeah, well, let’s talk about the Native American artifacts and burial grounds. I’ve been told — I haven’t actually gotten to see it, but I’ve been told that in Lewis County, West Virginia, MVP destroyed Native American artifacts that were 15,000 years old. I know that in numerous areas they found lots of Native American artifacts in Summers County on a place called Keeney’s Knob. I know that on Peters Mountain — I can see Peters Mountain from my house — where the Appalachian Trail will be impacted, not only there but along this pipeline for over a hundred miles, unprecedented impacts. On Peters Mountain on the Virginia side, I have and other people have photoed an area of significant Native American artifacts. And they just want to blast through it. They’re not going to do a — they won’t have to do any kind of a study or looking for it. It’s happened in Bent Mountain, Virginia. And then, if the MVP is completed and they do the MVP Southgate that goes through Crystal’s area, there’s lots and lots of Native American artifacts and areas in southern Virginia and south, northern North Carolina.

So, this pipeline — this bill says that the federal government and the state government has to issue permits within 21 days. Whether they can meet the actual rules or not, it doesn’t matter. And you can’t take it to court. There’s the unconstitutional part of it. Citizens’ rights to redress their grievances before the court is part of the Constitution, and they’re taking the power from the citizens and from the courts. If they can do that to us and people in Appalachia, they can do it to anyone.

AMY GOODMAN: Maury — 

MAURY JOHNSON: They also said that — yes?

AMY GOODMAN: We just have to wrap up. We have 15 more seconds.

MAURY JOHNSON: OK. OK. Well, they just need to get this out of this debt ceiling package, or let’s just pass a clean CR and get some of this bad stuff, like this permitting and this Mountain Valley Pipeline and the student loan stuff — it needs to go. And thank you, Tim Kaine and the delegates from Virginia and the others who are fighting on our behalf.

AMY GOODMAN: Maury Johnson, I want to thank you for being with us, southern West Virginia organic farmer whose land has been impacted by the Mountain Valley Pipeline, member of the Preserve Monroe, as well as POWHR Coalition —

MAURY JOHNSON: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — Protect Our Water, Heritage and Rights Coalition. We’ll link to your article

MAURY JOHNSON: And we have a website.

AMY GOODMAN: — “It Is Time to Kill the 'Dirty Deal' Once and For All.” The website, Maury?

MAURY JOHNSON: POWHR.org.

AMY GOODMAN: POWHR.org.

MAURY JOHNSON: P-O-W-H-R dot org.

AMY GOODMAN: Next up, we look at a major Supreme Court ruling weakening the Clean Water Act. Back in 30 seconds.

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