We need to be told the true climate cost of the Schumer and Manchin pipeline side deal

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As climate change hits the United States with heat waves, droughts and floods, lawmakers should ask themselves a simple question about any bill: Does it increase or decrease greenhouse gas emissions that fuel the ecological emergency?

Somehow, though, that question still isn’t being asked in Washington, even as Democratic leaders promise to promote a bill to roll back environmental laws and speed up oil and gas pipelines.

Related: Congress is about to pass a landmark climate bill. So why are the oil companies happy? | kate aronoff

Congressional staffers and environmental groups tell The Lever they haven’t seen reliable analyzes that comprehensively quantify the initiative’s climate effects. In short: Lawmakers seem to be proceeding without any data, despite the fact that a preliminary version of the pipeline bill has been in the public domain since early last month.

This is a deliberate deception. After all, last month Democratic leaders waved off emission reduction projections to present their Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) as a weapon to combat climate change. Indeed, to deflect questions about why fossil fuel companies were praising the bill, party leaders and their media acolytes pointed to studies, one from an institution linked to the fossil fuel giants, that claim that even with its provisions expanding oil and gas development, the legislation would result in a huge net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

That was the hook, now here’s the change: Those studies didn’t take into account pipeline legislation that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says was an “integral part of the IRA.” And now, neither Schumer nor the groups that created the previous emission reduction projections are releasing similar analyzes on the pipeline proposal that Congress could vote on as early as this week.

The initiative, which has the backing of the Biden administration, was originally negotiated between Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin, respectively, the top congressional recipients of campaign cash from the fossil fuel and utility industry. Although the final text of the measure is still secret, one of the first leaked drafts was emblazoned with the watermark of a powerful oil and gas industry lobby group.

“The fact that the emissions projections for the Schumer side deal have not been discussed privately or publicly points to the reality of what is at stake here,” said Jim Walsh of the environmental group Food and Water Watch. “The Schumer and Manchin deal is not about clean energy; It’s a fossil fuel payday. The leaked draft specifies the fast track of 19 infrastructure projects related to fossil fuels. Any effort to convert that increase in pollution into a reduction in emissions would be just that: a turnaround.”

‘Pipelines are the enormous most of the emissions’

Pipeline approvals are not an unimportant side issue in the fight to stop climate change: They are central, according to data from researchers at Michigan Technological University. His recent study found that pipelines account for almost half of the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions, because the infrastructure accelerates the distribution and use of fossil fuels.

That’s on top of emissions from methane leaks from natural gas pipelines, which is a particularly potent greenhouse gas. Such pipeline leaks are releasing millions of metric tons of methane each year, according to government data cited by the Environmental Defense Fund.

In addition, congressional investigators earlier this year found that “oil and gas companies have internal data showing that the sector’s methane emission rates are likely to be significantly higher than the official data reported to the public.” [the Environmental Protection Agency] would indicate”.

“Allowing any additional fossil fuel infrastructure, like pipelines that we put in, locks you into additional fossil fuels,” Michigan Tech engineering professor Joshua Pearce told The Lever. “Pipelines are [responsible for] the vast majority of emissions within the United States. Building more of them is really sacrificing the future.”

Currently, Congress has an agency to assess the financial cost of proposed bills, but does not have a similar agency to assess the climate costs of legislation. That has created a dangerous information vacuum, but in this case one thing is clear: Depending on how Manchin’s final bill is drafted, it could undermine projected emission reductions from other parts of the IRA.

“Just looking at a couple of pipelines and our public lands gives you an idea of ​​how much damage this could do,” said Jamie Henn, co-founder of 350.org and director of Fossil Free Media, which backs a coalition of 1,200 groups opposing the pipeline deal. “The Mountain Valley pipeline is estimated to have the lifetime emissions of about 25 coal-fired power plants, the Line 3 pipeline that Biden refused to stop is estimated to have the equivalent emissions of 50 coal-fired power plants, and a a quarter of US emissions since 2005 have come from public lands, which Manchin and the GOP want to open up for more drilling. Start adding these up and we’re talking serious emissions.”

Fossil gas money it is fluid to the Democrats

Earlier this month, 77 House Democrats released a letter asking their party leaders to keep the Manchin pipeline deal out of an unrelated stopgap spending measure. Schumer responded by pledging to include the deal in that spending bill, and Manchin has reportedly been enlisting the help of fossil fuel CEOs to lobby lawmakers.

But the pair have continued to refuse to release data on the climate impacts of their initiative, a stonewalling tactic that serves their campaign donors.

For example: Employees of one of the companies leading the West Virginia pipeline project have been funneling cash to Manchin and Schumer, to the point that they are now the second and fifth largest contributors this election cycle to the duo, respectively. That same company, NextEra, has also invested more than $400,000 in the Democrats’ House and Senate campaign committees.

In all, Democratic candidates and caucuses have sucked in more than $13 million from donors in the fossil fuel, utility and pipeline industries. Meanwhile, former Manchin and Schumer employees have been hired to lobby for pipeline and utility companies.

All that money and lobbying power doesn’t want anyone asking awkward questions about what the pipeline bill would actually do to the livable ecosystem.

They don’t want inconvenient emissions projections to get in the way of their profits.

They want lawmakers to fly blind, so they can continue to benefit no matter how much worse the climate crisis gets.

  • David Sirota is a columnist for The Guardian US and an award-winning investigative journalist. He is managing editor of Jacobin and founder of The Lever. He served as a speechwriter for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

  • Julia Rock is a reporter for The Lever

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