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The Debt Ceiling Bill’s Climate-Killing Mountain Valley Pipeline

ColumnJune 01, 2023
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The House of Representatives passed the so-called “Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023” on Wednesday night, raising the debt ceiling through January, 2025 and pushing the next potential battle over federal borrowing past the next presidential election. The Senate then quickly passed the bill, which includes numerous provisions completely unrelated to the debt ceiling. One of these “poison pills,” buried on pages 95 to 98 of the 100-page, must-pass legislation, fast-tracks the approval and construction of the controversial, 300-plus-mile-long fracked gas Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) through West Virginia and Virginia. Some estimates put the annual greenhouse gas emissions that the pipeline would enable as equivalent to 26 to 37 coal-fired power plants.

The pipeline has provoked a diverse array of opponents, from and The Sierra Club to Indigenous tribes and local farmers. One of those farmers is Maury Johnson, whose organic farm in southern West Virginia has already been impacted by the Mountain Valley Pipeline. He is a member of POWHR, the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Coalition.

“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. It’s been proven in court numerous times. So they just want to circumvent the law,” Johnson said on the Democracy Now! news hour.

Johnson blames the debt ceiling bill’s MVP provision on the pipeline’s biggest Congressional champion, West Virginia conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. Manchin, who has earned millions from his family-owned coal business and is Congress’s largest recipient of fossil fuel industry contributions, has used his leverage in the narrowly divided Senate to force the MVP into this bill.

“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,” Johnson added, describing some of the risks posed by the MVP. “We’re in 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.”

The debt ceiling bill also imposes “jurisdiction stripping,” forcing any court challenge lodged against the MVP into the traditionally pro-business federal appeals court in Washington, DC. It further ensures more people will have their private property appropriated by the MVP corporation through eminent domain. This in particular has incensed Democratic Virginia Senator Tim Kaine.

“I’m insisting on an amendment to strip out approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” Senator Kaine said after the bill’s passage in the House on MSNBC. “This is a pipeline that should have to go through normal permitting processes. But sadly, the deal that was struck gives this a green light, exempts it from all the normal permitting processes. To build a pipeline, you’ve got to take people’s land. This runs through Appalachian Virginia, some of my poorest, hardest hit residents. They don’t want to have their land taken. And they definitely don’t want Congress putting our thumb on the scale, to take away the power of agencies and courts to review whether it’s a good idea or not.”

Kaine’s amendment was defeated by a strongly bipartisan vote of 69 to 30.

The debt ceiling legislation compels the Secretary of the Army to issue all necessary permits to build and operate the Mountain Valley Pipeline within 21 days. Court challenges are continuing, and just last week, the MVP’s preferred court, the DC Court of Appeals, ruled in favor of the Sierra Club and others on a procedural permitting issue.

Organic farmer Maury Johnson and thousands of his allies aren’t waiting for the courts to stop the pipeline. This month a broad coalition is launching a wave of protests nationally, starting at the White House on June 8th, to “turn up the heat and make Biden take real climate action – by ending the era of fossil fuels.” In addition to finally shutting down the MVP, activists are demanding that the Biden administration reverse its approval of the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska and stop issuing any more permits for petroleum exploration and extraction on public lands and waters.

“I’m what a sacrifice looks like,” Maury Johnson concluded. “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.’”

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