As President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy attempt to sell Congress on their proposed raise the debt ceilingenvironmental groups are crying out against provisions that would advance a controversial pipeline project and weaken a fundamental environmental law.
The deal is a ‘disaster for people and the planet’, the non-profit Friends of the Earth said in a press release. The organization’s director of government and political affairs, Ariel Moger, called it “surrender to big oil and Republican hostage takers.”
The main purpose of the so-called Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 is to raise the debt ceiling, a limit imposed by Congress on the amount of money the Treasury can borrow to finance its operations and pay its creditors. . The U.S. government has never failed to repay its debt on time, and economists say it’s a default – expected to happen on June 5 if Congress does not raise the ceiling — would cause widespread financial chaos and trigger a global economic recession.
Congress votes to raise the debt ceiling 78 times since 1960. This allows the United States to continue paying for programs that Congress has already approved, but debt ceiling negotiations have become more contentious in recent years as congressional budget hawks try to get spending cuts in exchange for their support. This year’s proposal, which Biden and McCarthy announced on Sunday after months of negotiations, would raise the debt ceiling until the end of Biden’s first term. The bill includes spending cuts to appease congressional Republicans, but it also contains environmental measures”poison pillswhich opponents say has nothing to do with the national debt.
One of those provisions would require the Army Corps of Engineers to approve all remaining permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile project to transport natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia. The bill would also protect permits from judicial review.
Although conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin argued that the pipeline is necessary to “energy and national security“, experts say that this need has never been demonstrated. Instead, a coalition of conservationists warns that moving the project forward could cause 89 million metric tons greenhouse gas emissions per year – around 19 million passenger cars – while harm low-income communities and communities of color in his path. The pipeline has already faced many roadblocks due to water quality violations.
“This is a desperate company building a failing pipeline that has sympathetic ears in Congress,” said Russell Chisholm, chief executive of Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights, a coalition of environmental groups in Appalachia. He said the panic over the debt ceiling was a “completely fabricated crisis” that lawmakers were exploiting at the expense of frontline communities.
“I really feel like they’re trying to blame this impending deadline, this impending ‘catastrophe’, on people who object to having their lives wasted in the name of raising the ceiling. debt,” Chisholm said.
Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, has signaled his intention to table an amendment to remove the Mountain Valley Pipeline provision from the bill’s debt ceiling, though it’s unclear whether the amendment will get a vote.
Green groups are also concerned amendments to the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, in the debt ceiling agreement. Since 1970, NEPA, sometimes called the “Magna Carta” of US environmental laws, has required federal agencies to conduct environmental review before greenlighting major projects. The proposed changes would impose time limits on that review process – a move that critics say could accelerate fossil fuel infrastructurealthough the White House has argued it could help moving forward clean energy proposals.
Chisholm said the faster timeline for environmental reviews would make it harder for communities to weigh in on proposed infrastructure projects near their homes. It takes time to educate the public and engage them in public comment periods, he said, especially in rural areas without fast internet.
Other provisions of the debt ceiling proposal would restart federal student loan repayments; implement work requirements for people who receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; and cancel $1.4 billion in funding the Internal Revenue Service, out of a total of $80 billion provided by the Inflation Reduction Act. White House officials said the deal would take an additional $20 billion from the Internal Revenue Service and earmark it to other non-defensive programs.
Environmental advocates, including Chisholm, called on lawmakers to reject the bill and “do their job.”
“We need a clean debt ceiling bill, period,” Chisholm said. “Raise the debt ceiling, pass a clean bill, and stop targeting the most vulnerable people in this country.