Climate’s Worst Enemies: Debt Ceiling Deal Doubles as Big Oil’s Victory Lap?

Here we are, witnessing the aftermath of the U.S. government’s recent negotiation over its arbitrary debt limit, which seems to have ended with a severe setback for our climate. Some are even calling it a blatant “betrayal” by the Biden administration, as a deal has been struck that facilitates the construction of the contentious Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), and further weakens the government’s ability to stop similar projects in the future.

Environmental protection crusaders are sounding the alarm, criticizing the so-called Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, which, if passed by Congress, would freeze federal nonmilitary spending for the next year and increase it by 1% in 2025. But the devil lies in the details, as tucked away within the bill is what they’ve termed a “colossal error” by the Biden administration.

Peter Anderson, a policy director with Appalachian Voices, didn’t mince words when he called out the absurdity of linking the MVP approval with our nation’s credit limit. The MVP, a pipeline notorious for its environmental violations, seems to be getting special treatment here, raising legitimate concerns about legal protections, procedural fairness, and environmental justice for the communities along the pipeline’s route.

The MVP has been a controversial project, repeatedly denied multiple permits due to significant environmental concerns. Despite the fierce opposition and court rulings, the bill forces the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve all pending permits within 21 days, effectively shutting down any judicial oversight.

The consequences are far-reaching. According to an analysis by Oil Change International, the MVP, championed by Sen. Joe Manchin, would spew out emissions equivalent to 26 coal plants. That’s a whopping 89 million metric tons of carbon.

Our President Joe Biden, who had earlier stood firm against negotiating with Republicans on the debt ceiling, seems to have changed his tune, endorsing a deal that seems to pander to the oil lobby at the expense of environmental protection laws.

The deal impacts the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), limiting the reviews it can conduct on federal projects, and potentially enabling harmful projects to forge ahead despite objections from communities on the front lines, highlighting issues like oil spills, pollution, and public health risks.

Chelsea Barnes from Appalachian Voices and Ariel Moger from Friends of the Earth were among the many critics who called out this deal. According to them, it’s more of a surrender to Big Oil and the Republican hijackers in Congress, rather than a true compromise.

Despite claims by Biden and Manchin that the MVP is crucial for energy security and will reduce carbon emissions, evidence suggests the contrary. Methane gas leakage, pipeline operations, and the burning of gas delivered by the pipeline could contribute tens of millions of tons of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere annually for the foreseeable future.

Critics have expressed their disappointment in Biden’s climate policy track record, pointing out his previous approval of the mammoth Willow project, a drilling operation in Alaska that could release around 280 million metric tons of carbon emissions by 2050.

The bottom line? Climate advocates are calling for a clean debt ceiling bill and a halt to the climate-damaging MVP. As we stand at the precipice of a climate catastrophe, the stakes have never been higher. We must remember that our actions today will determine the future of our planet. As such, our leaders’ decisions should reflect the urgency of the crisis, not the interests of Big Oil.