In yet another move contradicting his campaign promises of climate action, the Biden administration recently granted approval of a 303-mile natural gas pipeline in the heart of Appalachia, despite the rapidly destabilizing climate. Last week the $6.6 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline received a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to run 3.5 miles of pipeline through Jefferson National Forest in Virginia and West Virginia, clearing a substantial legal hurdle in the development of the project. Despite widespread opposition from climate experts and environmental organizations, Equitrans Midstream – the company building the pipeline – says it is set to begin operation in the second half of 2023.
Natural gas is touted as an “efficient, relatively clean burning and economical energy source” by the United States Energy Information Administration. Natural gas is mostly methane, a potent greenhouse gas and the main contributor to the formation of ground-level ozone, itself a hazardous air pollutant and greenhouse gas. Methane emissions are responsible for approximately 30 percent of the rise in global temperatures since the beginning of the industrial era, and have been proliferating at a rate greater than ever before. Huge amounts of methane spill into the atmosphere each year during the extraction, storage, distribution and processing of natural gas. The EPA estimates that in 2020, “methane emissions from natural gas and petroleum systems and from abandoned oil and natural gas wells were the source of about 33% of total U.S. methane emissions,” and in 2021, “U.S. CO2 emissions from natural gas combustion for energy accounted for about 34% of total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions.”
Not only is the planet threatened by the atmospheric conditions created by the extraction and production of natural gas, local ecosystems, wildlife, air and water, communities and families are endangered by the destructive practices that come with the development of fossil fuel capital. In particular, land must be cleared and leveled for the drilling of wells. Well drilling creates air pollution, and disturbs nearby people, wildlife and water systems. The Mountain Valley Pipeline will require a 50-foot permanent easement, meaning a 300-mile long strip of land will be carved out of the Appalachian Mountains, permanently altering the forests and streams and habitats of thousands of native species.
President Biden campaigned on aggressively combating climate change at home and abroad. Now three years into his administration, it’s difficult to imagine a more “business as usual” approach toward fossil fuel industries and the catastrophic dangers they present to working class communities of the United States and the world. In fact, the Bureau of Land Management under President Biden has approved more oil and gas drilling permits than the Trump administration had during the same amount of time. Between October 2021 and October 2022, BLM approved 90% of all permit applications allowing fossil fuel corporations to drill. Last year, the Biden administration cleared red tape to complete the sale of over 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling, the largest sale of its kind in history.
Earlier this year another proposal was approved by the Biden administration for the construction and operation of Willow, an enormous oil drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope. Willow is supposed to deliver about 600 million barrels of oil over its 30 years of operation, but the environmental impact sustained in building this extractive infrastructure and burning the oil produced may be irreversible. At its onset, the Willow project can be expected to displace vulnerable species and pollute local air and water, disrupt subsistence practices and native communities, and generate around 280 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in an area already experiencing rapidly rising average temperatures along with other effects of accelerating climate change.
Major policies of the Biden administration, such as the 2021 infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act and the recently proposed EPA rule on power plant emissions, earmark billions of dollars for a seemingly promising technology called “carbon capture.” This would be allocated through per-ton tax credits awarded to companies for the carbon they reportedly capture. Billions of dollars are being subsidized by the government to advance this technology. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the technology has never been used in any facility or to any extent to capture carbon effectively, and it’s unclear how much pollution is actually being captured by the companies receiving the money.
Biden’s short-sighted climate agenda is no agenda at all. It’s an obvious handout for oil and gas industry lobbyists and executives under the guise of domestic energy security and job creation, expedited by the capitalist media and their greenwashing narrative.
The administration and supporters of continued fossil fuel reliance proclaim its necessity in creating a greater national energy security. A renewable energy system would in reality bring about the most secure energy system, but due to various reasons — the highly profitable and powerful fossil fuel industry and the inability of the U.S. military to function without it — U.S. imperialism recognizes fossil fuels as crucial to maintaining global dominance.
Another argument to continue fossil fuel production is job creation, along with infrastructure and community investment that often comes with it. Under a capitalist system, jobs are created at the whim of the market. Decisions are made by energy corporations to build drilling sites and pipelines based on what is most profitable for them, and any short-term investment into local economies that comes from these projects is fleeting. There is little profit that is generated from planning for the health and longevity of future generations, which is why it is not a concern for the owners of big business. Democrat and Republican politicians alike are more interested in lining the pockets of Wall Street donors than taking action to safeguard our future existence on this planet. This is simply not the priority under the for-profit system of capitalism.
In reality, the transition to ecological sustainability would create millions of jobs. Workers in the fossil fuel industry could quickly be retrained to build and operate the renewable energy infrastructure, and a zero-emission mass transit and high speed rail system could be built and used to transport workers and connect communities around the country. All of this could easily be achieved if the requirement of profits didn’t stand in the way. In a socialist society, workers could be deployed in ecological restoration work necessary to help rebalance our climate and to provide the basic needs of humanity. As workers, we must be willing to struggle for a better society and foster a more balanced connection with our planet through socialism.