On Aug. 7, the U.S. Senate passed the $750 billion Inflation Reduction Act. It’s a much smaller bill than President Biden’s original Build Back Better plan, which died without unanimous support from Senate Democrats. This legislation was negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who had opposed earlier climate legislation. The new bill includes healthcare provisions and a 15 percent minimum tax on corporations, but its main elements will kick-start clean energy infrastructure and provide incentives for electric vehicles. The bill also requires completion of oil and gas projects before green energy projects can be launched.
A side deal announced, but not voted on as yet, would streamline the permitting process for both clean and dirty fossil fuel energy projects and, according to a summary of the legislation, would require completion of the embattled Mountain Valley pipeline through Virginia and West Virginia. After facing eight years of opposition from local and national climate justice groups, the pipeline project had effectively been halted due to the loss of many permits caused by violations of environmental laws.
One of the activists that has been fighting the Mountain Valley pipeline from the beginning is Russell Chisholm, co-chair of the interstate coalition, Protect Our Water, Heritage and Rights, or POWHR. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Chisholm about his view of the concessions to the fossil fuel industry made the Inflation Reduction Act and his group’s vow to keep fighting the pipeline.
RUSSELL CHISHOLM: I’m not happy at all. In fact, most of us feel pretty betrayed by the process. You know, nobody knew that this deal was coming. People were not prepared to fully understand what was contained within it and there seems to have been some sort of tradeoff that involves getting the Mountain Valley pipeline completed — and that reeks to high heaven, for all of us, really.
MELINDA TUHUS: So, I’m very interested in the connection between this bill, the Inflation Reduction Act and Joe Manchin’s demand that the Mountain Valley pipeline be completed, because it’s separate legislation. This has already been voted on in the Senate; the House already voted on an earlier version, much bigger, but I assume the House will vote to pass this. What could happen between now and whenever this other bill is going to be raised — and I assume it’s after the summer recess, that’s what I’ve been hearing — what’s your take on whether it can be stopped? Streamlining approvals for infrastructure and specifically the Mountain Valley pipeline?
RUSSELL CHISHOLM: Lots of frustration down here. But I think what’s clear is that people need to be ready and be organizing to oppose any kind of deal that fast tracks Mountain Valley pipeline. Until we know more specifics, it’s hard to tell people exactly what levers to try to pull, where to put pressure. But if anyone is looking to support our efforts, our movement that is now over eight years going strong and Mountain Valley is still not built, they need to be ready. That’s the simplest thing I could tell people right now.
MELINDA TUHUS: I also wanted to ask — since it’s a separate bill — if you just look at the Inflation Reduction Act, there’s a lot of bad stuff in there, too . But every analysis I’ve read says that it’s actually way better. On balance, there’s a lot more in it that’s positive than negative. I wondered if you share that view or if you were absolutely opposed to the passage of the bill as it was put together?
RUSSELL CHISHOLM: You know, we’re not sure how equitably any of those provisions will be applied. We’re not entirely sure whether investments will be made in communities that need them the most. And when you consider the tradeoffs that were made for leasing for continued fossil fuel development as a requirement for anything that is proposed in renewables, it seems like there’s a lot there that cancels that out.
Specific pieces of the legislation that I think could have and should have been addressed separately, like funding for black lung benefits, earned by people who are suffering because of the work they’ve done in the coal fields – those things could have been handled and probably should have been handled long before this bill came forward.
So, yeah, it’s a mixed bag and I think, ultimately, if it comes down to there was some deal made to also finish the Mountain Valley pipeline, all we can do is oppose it! That’s not a deal that any of us down here could accept. That part of it feels pretty intentional, to pit the good against the bad in that bill.
MELINDA TUHUS: You’re in Virginia. One thing I read and I just know from what’s in the bill, Manchin’s going to say he delivered for his state because he got the black lung payments in. He got the guarantees of requirements for fossil fuel infrastructure in order to allow clean energy infrastructure build out, and that’s something a lot of people in his state would support. I know you work with folks all the time from West Virginia trying to stop the Mountain Valley pipeline. Do you have any sense of how they’re feeling? Are they feeling the same way you are?
RUSSELL CHISHOLM: Yeah, we’re definitely in unison in terms of our opposition to Mountain Valley pipeline being completed, and I do look to West Virginia folks and West Virginia voices when it comes to lack of investment there outside of fossil fuel investment.
There’s an opportunity here for people from West Virginia to be heard, to be seen, especially in addressing the lack of investment in their communities. Long history of extracting from that state and not really lifting up the communities that need it the most. So there is way more work that could be done, it needs to be done equitably and the voices of the people that have been the hardest hit need to be heard the loudest.
For more information, visit Protect Our Water, Heritage and Rights at powhr.org.