Progressives descended upon the White House on Thursday to demand that U.S. President Joe Biden use his executive authority to cancel the Mountain Valley Pipeline and declare a climate emergency to expedite the end of the fossil fuel era.
Approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) was fast-tracked last week via the debt ceiling agreement that Biden, eschewing his options for unilateral action, forged with House Republicans who took the global economy hostage. The fracked gas development in Appalachia—pushed hard by the GOP and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a coal profiteer and Congress’ top recipient of Big Oil money—is one of several fossil fuel projects that Biden has the power to stop.
While Biden was inside the White House talking with right-wing United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, hundreds of people gathered outside to remind the president that “he can stop MVP just like he stopped Keystone XL.” The rally was organized by People vs. Fossil Fuels, a coalition of more than 1,200 organizations. It marks the start of multiple days of action nationwide.
Many people wore masks due to the hazardous air quality in Washington, D.C. The East Coast’s smoke-filled skies are a direct result of climate change-intensified wildfires now spiraling out of control in Canada—a fact that observers were keen to point to as evidence for why Biden should revoke the permits needed to complete MVP and other planet-heating fossil fuel projects.
When asked by a reporter Wednesday if the coalition planned to cancel Thursday’s protest as a public health precaution, Fossil Free Media director Jamie Henn said, “No, this is exactly why we have to take these sorts of actions.” On Thursday, he added that “we’re not going to sit idle as the world burns.”
A separate rally scheduled for Thursday in New York City had to be canceled, however, because the record-setting air pollution blanketing the country’s most populous metropolitan area in an apocalyptic orange haze poses too great a risk.
“We’re fighting for a future,” West Virginia resident Maury Johnson said during the demonstration in the nation’s capital. “Not one that’s filled with smoke.”
Climate justice advocates were joined outside the White House by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Noting that MVP has nothing to do with raising the nation’s debt limit—an arbitrary and arguably unconstitutional cap on federal borrowing the GOP has weaponized to impose its agenda on multiple occasions—the progressive lawmaker denounced the inclusion of the project’s approval in the debt ceiling deal.
As The Guardianreported Thursday, “The Mountain Valley Pipeline project has been enmeshed in legal challenges for years due to opposition from grassroots groups and landowners but the deal passed by Congress to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, signed by Biden over the weekend, singles out the pipeline as being ‘required in the national interest’ and therefore should be allowed to proceed, shielded from any future judicial review.”
The approval of MVP comes just months after Biden greenlighted ConocoPhillips’ massive Willow oil drilling project in the Alaskan Arctic. Additionally, despite possessing the executive authority to cancel nearly two dozen proposed fracked gas export projects that threaten to generate heat-trapping emissions equivalent to roughly 400 new coal-fired power plants, the Biden administration has moved to increase fracked gas export capacity, especially in the U.S. Gulf Coast, since Russia invaded Ukraine last February. The president has also rubber-stamped more permits for fossil fuel extraction on public lands and waters than his White House predecessor.
The Biden administration has done all of those things despite mounting evidence of the climate emergency’s worsening toll and ample warnings from scientists about the incompatibility of expanding fossil fuels and preserving a livable planet. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently told Biden and other wealthy country officials in no uncertain terms that their current climate policies amount to a civilizational “death sentence.”
People vs. Fossil Fuels has argued that the president “can reclaim his climate legacy by stopping all new fossil fuel projects.”
Thursday’s rally outside the White House marks the beginning of what the coalition called “a stampede of distributed actions across the country” from June 8-11.
Participants have four main demands for Biden:
- End new fossil fuel projects, including Willow and the Alaska LNG project;
- Phase out ongoing oil and gas drilling on public lands;
- Declare a climate emergency; and
- Make renewable energy technology more available for homes and transportation.
As another alliance of progressive advocacy groups has explained: “The president has a long list of actions that he could take or instruct his agencies to take, ranging from stopping fossil fuel infrastructure approvals to instructing the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] to issue a stringent pollution prevention rule for the oil and gas sector. Declaring a climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act would unlock additional statutory powers, including the ability to halt crude oil exports and directing funds to build resilient, distributed renewable energy.”
In a statement this week, Zero Hour organizing director Magnolia Mead said that “young people are angry and fed up with watching President Biden cave to the fossil fuel industry time and time again.”
“We need an immediate transition to renewable energy to slow the climate crisis, and that’s impossible while our president is still approving massive fossil fuel expansion,” said Mead. “If President Biden cares at all for future generations and frontline communities, he must choose to end the era of fossil fuels.”
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