In September, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan held a press conference in Warren County, NC to announce the creation of a new national agency charged with advancing environmental justice and civil rights. That same month, the county marked 40 years since its predominantly black residents marched to a nearby landfill to protest the dumping of toxic waste in their communities. While their efforts failed at the time in 1982, this backlash shed light on how polluters — supported by politicians across the political spectrum — unfairly target low-income and communities of color with dirty energy infrastructure that harms people and the planet .
The Biden administration has since taken some notable steps to prioritize environmental justice. But members of Congress — including some self-proclaimed “climate champions” — are now threatening to undo these advances and further fuel our nation’s legacy of environmental racism by backing Sen. Joe Manchin’s (DW.Va.) dirty deal masquerades as “allowing reform”. .”
Manchin received strong support for this plan as a side deal to secure his vote for passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. With strong support from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.), President Biden, and other Democrats, Manchin worked to pass legislation that, rather than authorizing reform, would undermine the safeguards that had been in place for decades. have protected vulnerable communities from polluted air, water and land. In September, Manchin’s attempt to include his reform in a continuing resolution rightly imploded. Manchin is now trying to cram his backroom deal into legislation to be passed, such as the next National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), even as community resistance helped defeat the unpopular first attempt in September.
If Manchin has his way, this plan could undermine basic environmental laws, silence critical community input during the permitting process, and accelerate dirty energy projects that our planet simply cannot afford. It could even force completion of the Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline through Manchin’s home state of West Virginia and into parts of Virginia and North Carolina, which courts have previously rejected due to improper consideration of the project’s many environmental damages. All of the above would be a mockery of Biden’s stated commitment to environmental justice and civil rights.
The deal also targets one of our country’s most important conservation laws: the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). For more than 40 years, NEPA has required federal agencies to carefully analyze a range of environmental and socioeconomic impacts before approving projects such as power plants, roads and bridges. Crucially, it gives citizens their most meaningful opportunity to provide input on the impact a new project could have on their community. Manchin’s plan could eliminate these critical mandates.
Apparently Manchin wants you to think that NEPA is the culprit for delayed infrastructure. In reality, NEPA improves our government by making sure government officials look before they jump. Setting aside enough time and a formal process to fully consider all impacts of a proposed project and collect stakeholder input is essential to streamlining new infrastructure. In fact, recent peer-reviewed studies have confirmed that project delays are typically caused by a lack of opportunities for stakeholder consultation. Manchin claims he wants to speed up infrastructure construction, but it’s clear that his plan would make it easier to build fossil fuel projects and lead us in the wrong direction.
Let’s be clear: no permit reform that sacrifices these safeguards can be considered fair to communities or beneficial to the climate. Manchin, Big Oil’s darling, is not interested in accelerating renewable energy projects from equitable sources or leading us to a healthier future. It is both disingenuous and ridiculous for Democrats or environmental justice advocates to claim otherwise. While work may be needed to reform clean energy transmission, it cannot and will not be led by Manchin, and it cannot come through a rushed process that throws low-income and communities of color under the bus.
Any elected official who greenlights this brutal fossil fuel wish list while paying lip service to environmental justice cannot call himself a “climate champion.” Real environmental managers are not trying to eliminate the public’s main entry point into the federal permitting process. Public participation is fundamental to our democracy and communities must have a say in the dirty energy projects they are forced to live with. The only ones who benefit from this side deal are the polluters who benefit from the worsening climate crisis and their facilitators in Congress who can secure more funding for fossil fuel campaigns.
Elected officials must act now to end this dirty deal for good. Further silencing the voices most affected by the climate crisis would erase positive steps forward by the Biden administration on environmental justice, such as the EPA’s new environmental justice office and the Justice40 initiative. Lawmakers should instead follow the example of environmental, climate and frontline leaders and support legislation such as the Environmental Justice for All Act, which would address the disproportionate health and environmental harms that federal actions have for those most vulnerable to climate disasters.
Every human being has the right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and live on uncontaminated land. Our legislators must do what is morally right for people and the planet and reject Manchin’s ill-fated trick.
Donna Chavis is currently Climate & Energy Justice Program Manager at Friends of the Earth US and a recognized leader in social and environmental justice change and practice. She served on the Planning Committee of the First National People of Color Leadership Summit in 1991, where the Principles of Environmental Justice were developed. She is also a member of the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina.