Appalachia Knows There’s a Climate Crisis. Does President Biden?

By: Russell Chisholm, Common Dreams
April 5, 2022

As an Army veteran who served in Desert Storm and a frontline organizer in the fight to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline, I am certain that a transition to renewable energy is what our world needs right now. We can’t keep watching as fossil fueled wars displace and kill thousands of people around the world, from Ukraine to Iraq. Not only are these wars inhumane; they threaten the possibility of a livable future for everyone on this planet. They underscore the need to stop projects like MVP and transition to renewable energy.

In the past few weeks, we have witnessed the fossil fuel industry and its political allies spread lies about the impact of fracked gas and Liquid Natural Gas (LNG). Industry cronies have been baselessly declaring that completing the MVP will help our allies in Ukraine. The industry is taking advantage of a brutal war to put profit over people. But this profiteering does nothing to change our stance that the MVP and any new fossil fuel infrastructure should not be built.

Here in Appalachia, we know that we can’t afford to move backward on climate progress.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration is not acting in alignment with people on the frontlines of the climate crisis and environmental justice—the very communities it has claimed to put first. This month, the administration announced it will increase US liquid natural gas (LNG) exports to Europe to alleviate their dependence on Russian oil and gas.

This is a massive concern for the future of climate action because building new fossil fuel infrastructure could result in the US relying on gas for longer—despite widespread certainty that all countries should be phasing off fossil fuels, including in the newest IPCC report, published Monday.

Here in Appalachia, we know that we can’t afford to move backward on climate progress. Stopping the MVP isn’t about completion numbers anymore. It’s not even about permits. We are in the midst of a climate emergency, and that means this project can never be put into service.

In order to ensure this happens, we need to see bold action from President Biden. There are several ways he can get back on track and help us stop the MVP.

Biden could use executive action to act boldly to stop the expansion of fossil fuels and jumpstart a renewable energy transition without having to go through Congress. If Biden issued an executive order invoking the National Emergencies Act to declare a climate emergency, he could have the power to direct agencies to review their remaining permits through the climate lens, which might result in favorable decisions toward stopping MVP.

The MVP is a climate disaster; it would result in the equivalent of emissions from 23 average U.S. coal plants, or over 19 million passenger vehicles annually. The pipeline also increases the risk of methane emissions, which is a greenhouse gas multitudes more potent than carbon dioxide. Stanford University recently found that methane leaking from US oil and gas infrastructure and production areas is several times greater than federal government estimates. If Biden declared a climate emergency, there would be no possible justification for methane-spewing projects like the MVP.

Declaring a national emergency isn’t the only solution to the climate crisis, but it could create momentum for more bold climate action and help mobilize funding. It could also increase public pressure on unnecessary projects like the MVP.

Another mechanism the Biden administration could use is the Defense Protection Act. That it is currently drafting an executive order invoking the Act to help electric vehicle producers access key minerals for the technology to store energy signals that the administration is open to using executive authority for environmental actions. Biden could also invoke the Defense Production Act to help domestic industries accelerate the production of renewable technology that could drive down costs.

Some federal agencies have attempted to make progress on climate. Recently, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued policy statements saying it will consider greenhouse gas emissions and environmental justice impacts when assessing fracked gas infrastructure.

But the fossil fuel industry and the politicians they bankroll pitched “a fit because they’re worried FERC’s modest proposed policy changes might mean they no longer have free rein to build as many polluting pipelines as they want”, as Kelly Sheehan at the Sierra Club put it. During FERC’s March meeting, the agency hit pause on implementing the policy changes, despite clear direction from courts that FERC can’t continue to ignore climate and environmental justice impacts when assessing projects.

If Biden declared a climate emergency, there would be no possible justification for methane-spewing projects like the MVP.

Agencies, states, rural communities, and cities need clear and decisive federal leadership in order to effectively address the climate crisis. These entities have repeatedly shown interest in and pursued such action, but they continue to be impeded by the greedy fossil fuel industry.

Biden says that he is for environmental justice and workers’ rights. Yet his actions put vulnerable communities like those in Appalachia in danger of being left behind with stranded assets and new polluting infrastructure in a just transition to clean, renewable energy. If he is to be the Climate President he says he is, Biden must also direct adequate and equitable funding for workers who are putting the transition into action and include them in federal policy.

I served in Desert Storm. Now I’ve devoted my life to protecting my community’s land and water from the threat of unnecessary fossil fuel expansion. It’s time to turn away from fossil fuels and kickstart a just transition to a renewable and clean energy future. It’s time to declare a climate emergency and ban fossil fuel leasing on federal lands and waters. Here in Appalachia, we’re ready. Are you, President Biden?

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