Environmental Justice and Climate Leaders Arrested for Staging Sit-in at the Entrance to Senate Office Building

Washington, DC- The heads of over a dozen climate and Environmental Justice organizations were arrested Thursday, September 22nd for blocking an entrance to the Hart U.S. Senate Office Building while protesting the Energy Independence Act of 2022, sponsored by U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The group which included the directors of Indigenous Environmental Network, Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity, and more, urged congress to stop the legislation from passing, calling it a “dirty deal“.

The protests occurred just one day after the release of the 91-page legislation that aims to reform the permitting process for infrastructure and energy projects. Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer (D-NY), agreed to introduce a vote on the bill in exchange for Manchin’s yes vote on the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act. Manchin lauded the permitting reform bill stating, “We’ve got a good piece of legislation that is extremely balanced and I think it will prove itself in time.” The Senator went on to take jabs at left-leaning Democrats, in particular, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), and the Republican Senators that unanimously object to Democrat-led policies, calling their opposition to the bill, “revenge politics”. Manchin argued that fast-tracking natural gas pipeline infrastructure, such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline in the Senator’s home state of West Virginia, will increase the country’s energy security while reducing costs to consumers.

Opponents argue that the policy’s aim of reducing the time limits on environmental impact assessments will increase environmental pollution and hazards in already overburdened communities. Maria Harmon, Co-Executive Director of Step Up Louisiana, has felt the personal impact of living on the Gulf Coast, the epicenter of petrochemical production in the United States. “Our communities have been suffering for far too long from the impact of harmful pollution from petro-chemical, and gas and oil companies. I have family members who have died from rare forms of cancer and other terminal diseases by way of chemical exposure!”

Louisiana is the third largest producer of natural gas in the United States and is home to an 85-mile stretch of land occupied by over 150 oil refineries, plastic plants, and chemical facilities. The area was given the name “Cancer Alley” by residents due to the exponential rates of cancer and other life-threatening illnesses in the surrounding communities. Harmon continued on to say, “Our lives have value and we deserve to live in healthy environments that provide us with opportunities to thrive! We cannot allow political deals to continue to sacrifice our lives and communities.” 

Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of Indigenous Environmental Network, agreed with Harmon stating, “This dirty deal will set a precedent for more destructive projects to be implemented without review.” Goldtooth, who was one of the leaders arrested at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday afternoon, noted “Manchin’s permitting reform bill, the Energy Independence and Security Act, is a direct threat against the inherent sovereignty and jurisdictional authority of our Indigenous nations and its peoples to protect ourselves from this accelerating climate crisis.  The content of the bill strips critical NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) provisions that Indigenous and other environmental justice communities need in order to take action on destructive projects like pipelines.”

A detailed summary of the bill notes that the legislation aims to increase domestic energy production by creating a priority list of 25 projects every 180 days for the next ten years that can be fast-tracked for approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Elizabeth Bast, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth, worries that an increased commitment to greenlighting fossil fuel projects will be detrimental to the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are a lead contributor to climate change. “We cannot protect our climate without ending our reliance on fossil fuels and phasing out extraction. The data is clear on this.” A 2021 report led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that nations across the world are expected to produce twice the amount of fossil fuels by 2030 than the amount that is necessary to meet the commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement and keep global temperature increase under 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels. According to NASA, A global temperature increase of over 1.5 degrees Celsius has already been seen in several places across the globe. Research also shows that countries in lower latitudes and marginalized communities are already disproportionately impacted.

Nevertheless, some industry executives in the clean energy sector support the bill. Heather Zichal, CEO of the American Clean Power Association stated, “Our current permitting system is overly cumbersome and mired in delays, hamstringing our ability to grow the clean energy economy. Without these reforms, we run the risk of jeopardizing the deployment of 100 gigawatts of clean energy by 2030, and with that, we’ll also fall short of the job creation and carbon reduction benefits that would be realized from these reforms. ”

Opponents of the bill include over 77 U.S. House representatives who hope to stop the legislation from being included in a critical stop-gap spending bill that must be passed by September 30th to keep the federal government in operation.

The coalition of environmental and community organizations is continuing to ramp up advocacy against the bill and offered an online form through everyaction.com to email U.S. Senators and demand rejection of the permitting reform bill. Senate is expected to vote on the stop-gap spending bill as early as Tuesday, September 27th.

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