Outrage in West Virginia over Manchin’s pipeline plan

The struggle against the fossil fuel industry in West Virginia was always going to be one of David v. Goliath proportions, but after years of demonstrations, lobbying, and legal actions, 68-year-old Becky Crabtree believed the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) had been defeated fairly.

Therefore, Crabtree, a high school science teacher who teaches kids about the climate catastrophe, was “numb” when word came earlier in August that the state’s fossil fuel-friendly senator Joe Manchin had revived the troubled project.

Before the pivotal midterm elections, Manchin, a conservative Democrat who receives more campaign funding from the fossil fuel sector than any other member of Congress, including pipeline firms, had committed to supporting his party’s historic climate legislation. But only after he worked out a deal to expedite the MVP.

The unfairness is what enrages me so much. It’s a pact with the devil,” 68-year-old Crabtree of Lindside, Monroe County, who runs a 30-acre sheep farm, said.

The agreement is advantageous for those who support the pipeline. Separate legislation that would “force the relevant agencies to take all necessary procedures to authorize the construction and operation of the MVP and provide the DC circuit jurisdiction over any additional lawsuit” was agreed to by Democratic leaders to advance in September.

By doing this, the pipeline firm may be able to avoid judges who have halted work or revoked permits due to environmental concerns and have any pending issues heard in an appeals court in Washington, which is generally viewed favorably by developers.

It’s a part of a larger package of concessions that Manchin won to weaken environmental safeguards and hasten the approval of pipelines and other energy projects, limiting legal challenges from concerned towns and environmental organizations.

Additionally, it requires new oil and gas drilling agreements in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, two locations that environmentalists have sought to protect in court. Any public lands given up to solar and wind development must be matched by millions of acres given over to oil and gas, committing the US to decades-long projects that contribute to global warming.

The side-deal, according to campaigner Brett Hartl at the Center for Biological Diversity, is a “vile gift” to the fossil fuel sector. “More public assistance is the last thing these corporations deserve because they are destroying our climate while making historic profits.”

Campaigners also caution that the numerous concessions will cost another generation of Black, Latino, Indigenous, and low-income communities their lives because they would be worst hit by the new projects’ noise, air pollution, and eviction plans.

Many experts, however, contend that the concessions were worthwhile in order to secure the nation’s first ever climate legislation, which allocates $369 billion for the switch to renewable energy and electric vehicles. This historic investment, according to scientists, will result in net reductions of 40% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

The trade-off will be difficult for those who will be directly impacted to accept.

Crabtree said: “I understand how compromises operate, and I’m delighted that we finally achieved some action on climate change. I was arrested in 2018 after attempting to halt building on her land by chaining myself to my old Ford Pinto. But it hurts that Manchin and his friends are sacrificing our towns and the environment.

The 303-mile Mountain Valley pipeline would deliver liquefied shale gas from northern West Virginia to southern Virginia via farmland, the rugged, forested Appalachian highlands, and about a thousand streams, rivers, and marshes.

It will pass through karst terrain, which is characterized by springs, creeks, caverns, and sinkholes and is a complex geological structure formed by the breakdown of soluble rocks like limestone and dolomite. According to the US Geological Survey, the area has been blessed with an abundance of water sources because to this subsurface terrain that resembles Swiss cheese, but because the land is porous and unstable, it is susceptible to contamination. Pipeline opponents claim that burying anything flammable in the earth is too unsafe because recent heavy rains have caused mudslides and landslides throughout the region.

According to the firm, it “worked tirelessly to establish a route that poses the least overall impact on communities, cultural and historic resources, and environmentally vulnerable areas, including regions with karst terrain.”

Peters Mountain, a spreading summit with sheer drops, endangered species, and spectacular views that cross state boundaries to Virginia, is of great concern. It is covered in oak, maple, and hickory trees. Over half of the population of Monroe County receive their pure drinking water from the towering mountain, which would be traversed by the pipeline.

“The realities haven’t changed just because Joe Manchin wants to expedite this fossil fuel infrastructure. There are still irregularities, discrepancies, and gaps in the permitting process. Howdy Henritz, 82, a clean-water supporter and small landowner in Greenville, Monroe county, who relies on spring water, said: “This area is really fragile; the threat to our water source hasn’t altered.

“Listening to the news felt like receiving a sucker punch. Never again will I cast a ballot for Manchin.

Others, though, favor Manchin’s plan and think environmental concerns are “unfounded,” like Bill Shiflet, a farmer, real estate agent, and chair of the Monroe County Building Commission.

We have pipelines all across this country, he declared. We will be able to sell West Virginian gas to our partners in Europe thanks to Mountain Valley’s game-changing severance and property tax revenues once the gas starts flowing. We are not prepared, therefore turning off fossil fuels now would be very bad news.

Due to a lack of permissions required to cross waterways and wetlands, which Manchin wishes to avoid, the project is currently over budget, behind schedule, and at a standstill. The business was given a four-year extension earlier this week, giving it until October 2026 to finish the project. (The firm claims that approximately 94% of the work on the MVP is finished, but environmental groups have calculated that the actual completion rate is more like 55%.

Georgia Haverty, 82, who lives in Giles County, Virginia, on the other side of Peters Mountain, owns 500 acres that include pick-your-own apple orchards, a restaurant, a wedding venue, and a dog daycare facility. Crop failures in recent years have been caused by extreme and unexpected weather patterns, which, in Haverty’s opinion, emphasizes how vital it is to move away from fossil fuels. “It is not a reasonable trade-off to sacrifice the environment in favor of larger corporate bank accounts. The issue is that we are Appalachians and have no political clout, he remarked.

But the financial clout of the pipeline sector in Washington is expanding.

According to federal campaign finance filings monitored by Open Secrets, the sector has donated $331,000 to Manchin so far this year, up from $20,000 in 2020. Manchin, who has received more than the next five lawmakers combined, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate leader from New York who negotiated the agreement for Manchin’s vote, are four of the top 20 industry beneficiaries. Additionally, Schumer has received at least $281,000 since 2017 from NextEra Energy, an investor in MVP and the largest utility in the nation.

Manchin has “always been in complete compliance with ethics and financial disclosure regulations,” according to a spokesman, and “has always had West Virginia’s best interests in mind.” The Schumer campaign did not reply.

Haverty claimed that if there is one lesson she has taken away from the pipeline fight, it is that money does matter. “No of the facts, laws, or fairness, if you possess something and someone with greater money wants it, they will take it. It is the antithesis of the American dream, claimed Haverty, one of 300 Virginians who sought to prevent a pipeline from being built on their property via eminent domain. The use of eminent domain, which the constitution restricts the government from taking private land for public use, for private gain is being contested in court.

The fourth circuit court in Richmond, Virginia, which overturned essential licenses stopping construction that Manchin wants to circumvent, according to the corporation, got it “wrong.” But it won’t be over until it is. The next round of this conflict will be over permission.

Democrats’ progressive side is unwilling to fulfill Manchin’s promise, despite some Democrats pointing out that protracted licensing processes have also hampered renewable energy projects and the transmission of clean electricity throughout the nation.

Ral Grijalva, the chairman of the House’s natural resources committee and a congressman from Arizona, declared, “Polluting businesses may have earned that pledge in a deal with a select few, but I intend to do everything in my power to urge the rest of my colleagues to violate it.” Another progressive Democrat, Rashida Tlaib, also stated that given Manchin’s prior political maneuvers regarding the climate bill, “we owe him nothing now” about permits.

It will depend on how much political capital and force leaders are ready to commit to the MVP if it becomes a national call to protest like the Dakota Access pipeline on Indigenous grounds at Standing Rock. More than 650 organizations wrote a letter to congressional leaders on Wednesday urging lawmakers to reject Manchin’s fossil fuel side deal.

Residents of Montgomery County originally organized against the MVP almost eight years ago in a rich rural neighborhood on the outskirts of the city of Blacksburg, building pipeline monitoring networks and legal techniques that developed into a regional and national campaign.

The first discussions were held at the homes of psychiatrist Bridget Simmerman, 60, and telecom account executive David Seriff, 64, who over time changed the pipeline route to avoid some of their houses. Seriff added, “We’ve witnessed egregious misuse of individual and property rights, it’s so un-American. This being an affluent neighborhood, we have more power than others.

Piles of the 43-inch carbon steel pipeline, which have been left to rust on the mountaintop since the building was halted a few years ago, are visible less than half a mile up a forested fire access road.

The truth is that we don’t require additional methane infrastructure, according to Seriff. We must advance rather than retreat. Although this offer seems outrageous, it’s not done yet. We’re prepared and organized, and we’re going to put an end to this.

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