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As extreme weather pummels the nation, Democrats are pushing oil and gas deals

Manchin with Schumer
AP/Patrick Semansky
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., talks with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., before an event in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington, Tuesday, March 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

California — my home — is on fire. In September, we’ve faced blistering heatwavesdangerous tropical storms and plumes of smoke that poison our air and obscure the sky. Once-in-a-lifetime weather events are now par for the course. And things are only going to get worse. Much worse.

The impacts of climate change hit the poor, marginalized and people of color first and worst, but they will hit us all. Just look at Florida right now.

We know that climate change is driving these catastrophic weather patterns, and we know that burning and extracting fossil fuels like oil and gas is driving climate change. The science is crystal clear: we cannot afford any new coal, oil, or gas projects if we want a livable planet for the future. 

In the halls of Congress, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) made a backroom deal with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would greenlight more of the oil and gas projects that are already driving us toward climate breakdown. They tried to include it in the continuing resolution this week that is needed to fund the government. 

But the voice of the people won the day: An outpouring of resistance from frontline communities and environmental organizations stopped the deal in its tracks. 

Now, I have an urgent plea for all holding office in the Senate and House of Representatives on behalf of future generations and the ones currently living on this planet: Stand up for the health and future of your constituents. Do not pass this deal in another piece of legislation. Stop it from becoming law and bringing more havoc to our communities. It would be devastating for Congress to embrace fossil fuels again on the heels of the Inflation Reduction Act, which has been hailed as the first major national legislation to address climate change.

The “dirty deal” would literally have taken a page out of Donald Trump’s agenda. It would have gutted a key environmental provision, the National Environmental Policy Act. Trump unilaterally weakened the act during his presidency in a move the New York Times called, “one of the biggest — and most audacious — deregulatory actions of the Trump administration.” 

To say we’re living in historic times is an understatement. The eight largest fires in recorded California history have occurred in the past five years, and there is no longer a “fire season” because fires are year-round. The western coast of Florida was just pummeled by the biggest hurricane to hit it in more than a century, but according to a study published earlier this year in the journal, “Nature Climate Change,” the western U.S. is experiencing its driest period in at least 1,200 years. 

Fossil fuel projects already underway would produce enough pollution to push us well beyond safe climate limits. With each new fossil fuel project approved, it becomes increasingly likely that in the next chapter of our lives, “giga-fires” and 120-degree heat waves will be the new normal.

There is no alternative to ending our dependence on fossil fuels. Not even if we plant a trillion trees, and not even if we invest billions of dollars in unproven technologies like carbon capture and storage. We must end fossil fuel expansion.

The pollution from fossil fuels doesn’t just drive climate change, it also kills millions of people each year — disproportionately Black, brown, immigrant, Indigenous, and low-income individuals — the same most likely to be impacted by wildfiresfire smoke and oppressive heat. Backroom deals that would sacrifice millions more people in frontline communities on the altar of corporate greed are just not acceptable. 

We cannot accept eviscerating environmental reviews, public comments and Tribal consultation for new oil and gas projects that threaten our water, land and public health. We need these and many more roadblocks to fossil fuel usage so that this primary source of pollution and climate change can be scaled back and then ended. We must preserve the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act, key tools that communities use to protect themselves.

The deal that we just derailed was driven by a senator who has received millions of dollars from fossil fuel interests. A leaked version literally bore the watermark of the oil and gas industry in the form of the American Petroleum Institute. 

It is time for bold, decisive leadership to protect our people and our planet. Our elected representatives must stand firm against this deal. Nearly 80 Democratic members of the House have written to Speaker Pelosi urging her to do so, alongside an outcry from the environmental justice community.

Climate chaos is here, and drilling for more oil will quite literally fuel the flames. Our state is on fire. The land is dying. The heat is unbearable. And it’s only getting worse. We need to take our foot off the gas, not stomp down on the pedal. 

Annie Leonard is the co-executive director of Greenpeace USA.

Tags California fires Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Climate change Donald Trump global warming' inflation reduction act Hurricane Ian Joe Manchin Nancy Pelosi National Environmental Policy Act Politics of the United States

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