Manchin sells out working-class Appalachians for Mountain Valley Pipeline

On August 16, Joe Biden signed the “Inflation Reduction Act” into law. The Inflation Reduction Act is a package of environmental, health care and tax measures sponsored by coal baron Senator Joe Manchin and Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer. The bill, which invests a meager $369 billion toward climate action over the next decade, is being hailed by the Democratic establishment and corporate media outlets as an aggressive and impactful step toward fighting climate change and reaching emission reduction goals.

However, the bill came with massive concessions to the fossil fuel industry, including a “side deal” made between Senator Manchin and Democratic leadership. The deal, which comes in the form of a legal wish list, outlines provisions that would fast track the completion of various fossil fuel projects nationwide, including Manchin’s longtime pet project — the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

MVP: nearly a decade in the making

First proposed in 2014, the MVP is an unfinished natural gas pipeline traveling through West Virginia and Virginia. The planned route stretches 303 miles from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia. It would carry fracked natural gas across steep and unstable mountainous terrain and nearly one thousand streams and freshwater ecosystems.

Hundreds of working-class communities reside along its path. Like much of Appalachia, these areas have become sacrifice zones for the fossil fuel industry — facing increased risk of landslides, pipeline explosions, air pollution and water contamination. Furthermore, the pro-industry Federal Environmental Regulatory Commission has allowed pipeline developers through the process of eminent domain to seize people’s land under the guise of “public interest.”

However, the MVP is not just a danger for frontline communities, but for generations to come as our planet continues to face the devastating impacts of climate change. With estimated emissions totaling 90 million metric tons per year — equivalent to that of 23 coal-fired power plants — this pipeline only further exacerbates the worsening climate crisis.

Despite dire warnings from community members, environmental organizations, Native American tribes and climate scientists, pipeline developers — with the help of politicians like Sen. Manchin — are intent on completing the pipeline as quickly as possible.

Appalachia fights back

Working-class Appalachian communities have been tirelessly organizing against and fighting the pipeline’s construction since its announcement in 2014. Manchin’s side deal is undoubtedly a direct response to the recent wins made by the environmental justice movements of Appalachia, which have stalled the pipeline’s construction well beyond its estimated completion date, nearly doubling its initial $3.5 billion price tag and raising concern among pipeline investors.

One organization leading that fight in Appalachia is Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights. Formed in response to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, POWHR aims to connect and represent individuals and groups in West Virginia and Virginia who are directly impacted by the pipeline.

Liberation News spoke with POWHR’s Development and Programs Coordinator, Grace Tuttle, about the importance of solidarity between communities in environmental justice movements. “Appalachia is done being a sacrifice zone, but we’re not saying ‘go put it somewhere else.’ We’re saying ‘don’t put it anywhere,’” said Tuttle.

“And all of the people who have historically been living in these exploited and extracted places are banding together in solidarity,” Tuttle continued.

One vital tactic that POWHR has developed in response to a growing number of environmental violations is the Mountain Valley Watch. The MVW is an organized network of community members who actively monitor and gather evidence, such as photos and water samples from pipeline construction sites. This project has been a crucial aspect in the ongoing legal battles against the MVP.

“The Mountain Valley Watch is a key embodiment of people taking it upon themselves to create a structure that protects water and communities from something like the MVP,” Tuttle explained.

Stop MVP Coalition and People vs. Fossil Fuels will be holding a rally on September 8 at 5 p.m. outside the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., to demand that Congress oppose Manchin’s deal with fossil fuel profiteers.

Featured image: From the Indigenous-led Bundle of Arrows gathering in Virginia, Aug. 2021. Photo by Anthony Crider, Wikimedia Commons.

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