Opinion |  Congress Turns Climate Gas Lighting Into Law

On Saturday night, as members of Congress scrambled to reach agreement on legislation that would raise the nation's debt ceiling, they agreed on the non-sequitur totals in text they would release the following day. Following a series of late-game interventions by lobbyists and energy executives, the draft law states the construction and operation of a natural gas pipeline is “necessary in the national interest.” It's not exactly tied to a debt ceiling, at least not in a literal sense. But then again, it's no ordinary pipe.

Building the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile conduit to carry fracked gas from West Virginia to southern Virginia, has been a top priority for Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia since the project was announced in 2014. The problem, for him and other project supporters, is that it is being opposed. hard by grassroots group And land owner stay on track with the project for a long time. Construction on the project recently stalled after a federal judge found that regulatory agencies had repeatedly failed to comply with environmental laws.

By forcing it through this pipeline, the Biden administration completes the ransom sought by Republicans holding the global economy hostage, and repays its own debt to Mr. Manchin for last year's landmark vote for the Reducing Inflation Act.

Pushing the pipeline across the finish line through blunt legislative power now stands to enshrine in federal law dangerous misinformation if the Senate passes a bill that the House passes on Wednesday: claims that pumping, piping and burning more fossil fuels is — despite all the scientific evidence and common sense to the contrary – the climate solution.

Natural gas consists mostly of methane, a climate-warming super pollutant that is responsible for about a third of the warming the world has experienced to date. When completed, the Mountain Valley Pipeline will be a very large and long-lived methane delivery device. In the wells that feed it and along the roads, some of that methane will inevitably leak into the atmosphere, where each molecule will exert 86 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. At the end of the line, the methane will be burned in power plants and furnaces, producing carbon dioxide. Taken together, by one estimateMVP will generate annual emissions equivalent to those produced by 26 coal-fired power plants.

However, the text of the bill asserts – in a cheeky move of climate gas lighting – that the pipeline will “reduce carbon emissions and facilitate the energy transition.”

Businesses and governments have long claimed that gas is “bridge“towards a clean energy future, an”fuel transition that will help us until renewable energy is ready for prime time. But now that wind, solar, and battery storage is quite readily available and, in many places, cheaper than gas, the jig is up. That made the Mountain Valley Pipeline a project to find reasons for: There are cheaper sources of gas available through existing pipelines, and the US Energy Information Administration project that demand for gas in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions will continue to decline in the coming years and decades.

While the assertion that pipelines are necessary and good for the climate defies logic, the political calculus is self-explanatory. Congressional Democrats and President Biden want to pay tribute to Mr Manchin, who is weighing whether to run in a tough re-election battle in 2024.

Mr. Manchin is also a proponent of another major gas pipeline coming out of his state: The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which I have been reporting on since 2019. The two pipelines are twins, announced on the same day in 2014 and approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the same day. in 2017. They will traverse steep, avalanche-prone Appalachian terrain. But the ACP was dropped in 2020 after years of staunch grassroots resistance and successful legal challenges.

Lord Manchin seems determined to save the Mountain Valley Pipeline from this fate. And with that, the gas industry and its electric utility donors – whose lobbyists helped it in the final hours of crafting a debt ceiling deal – will be able to further strengthen their foothold in the energy system.

White House official have said that the project will probably get the remaining federal permits. But the provision certifies all necessary permits and prohibits further judicial review of any of them – thereby sterilizing an important tool for ensuring that infrastructure projects comply with existing laws and regulations. It's the legislative equivalent of overturning the Scrabble board in annoyance when you lose a fair and square game.

For many of those living on the line of the project, who have watched its construction so far triggering more than 500 recorded violations water quality and other regulations, it is a terrible betrayal. But it also sets a dangerous precedent. It is safe to assume that this would not be the last time this tactic was used to protect fossil fuel projects from judicial review or scientific scrutiny, should they be deemed by the developer and his political allies to be in the “national interest”. ”

Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia cited this risk in explaining his opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline provision. when Mr. Manchin managed to make a similar engraving attached to a sustainable budget resolution to fund the government last September, Mr. Caine rejected to select it. “If the owner of the MVP is not happy with the court's decision, they should do what the other plaintiffs did and appeal,” he said. “Allowing them to fundamentally change federal laws to achieve their goals will surely encourage other wealthy people and companies to try the same thing. I will not participate in opening that door to abuse and even corruption.”

Mr. Kaine, along with the rest of the Democratic members of the Virginia congressional delegation, remained opposed; this week he said he opposes any debt ceiling bill that exempts the Mountain Valley Pipeline from judicial review. Meanwhile one of the leading Republican negotiators told reporters this week the pipeline provision is a “big win” for his party, as it puts “Democrats on record in favor of conventional energy projects that eliminate or tie the hands of the judiciary.”

Democratic leaders are sure to take offense at suggestions that they are helping the gas industry hinder the transition to clean energy. After all, they passed the Reducing Inflation Act, the most significant climate law in US history, and protected their raft of clean energy incentives from cutting debt ceiling deals. It was clear that the deal makers thought of themselves as the adults in the room, making the tough compromises necessary to avert a financial disaster. But when the stakes were this big, one didn't need to give them that respect.

There is always a political “crisis” gathering on the near horizon that will replace worries about climate – that will turn us away from a dizzying awakening methane concentrationit is currently surging to levels not seen in more than 800,000 years, a trend that follows a worst-case climate scenario.

This is what it's like to shuffle your way into climate chaos, one misguided “compromise” at a time.

Jonathan Mingle is an independent journalist and author of the forthcoming book “Gaslight: The Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Fight for America's Energy Future.” As a recent Alicia Patterson Foundation fellow, she reports on the future of natural gas.

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