NYC climate activists used the congressional recess to target two representatives in Brooklyn last week, urging the legislators to oppose a deal they say is a step backward for the planet.
On Thursday, about 40 people representing Food & Water Watch, New York Communities for Change, Climate Families NYC, 350 Brooklyn, Sunrise NYC and Greenpeace USA gathered outside Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’ Central Brooklyn office.
The activists toted vibrant signs and copies of a letter signed by more than 650 organizations concerned about potential “fossil fuel giveaways.” The following afternoon, a smaller group visited Rep. Yvette Clarke’s (NY-09) office.
They are asking Clarke and Jeffries, who is chair of the Democratic caucus, to speak out against a deal that could speed up the review process for energy projects nationwide, which includes fossil fuel projects such as the controversial Mountain Valley pipeline.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly made the deal with West Virginian Sen. Joe Manchin to secure Manchin’s vote on the Inflation Reduction Act. That legislation put $369 billion in new spending toward energy and climate initiatives.
Details of the deal between Schumer and Manchin—who receives more funding from natural gas companies than anyone in Congress—were released by The Washington Post. They include fast-tracking the permitting process for 25 infrastructure energy projects and limiting the timeline for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process to two years for “major” projects and one year for “lower impact” projects.
Both of the Brooklyn representatives have been strong on climate in the past. Rep. Clarke has introduced legislation to combat air pollution that disproportionately impacts marginalized communities.
“Clarke is on our side in a lot of things, so hopefully she can come out and be a leader,” said Esther Feldman, of Sunrise Movement NYC.
Feldman was one of 11 people who gathered at the intersection of Bedford Ave. and Linden Blvd. on Friday. They were headed to Clarke's office to ask the representative to vocalize her opposition to the deal and to bring the issue to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“If you’re not a constituent, totally cool,” Santosh Nandabalan, an organizer with Food & Water Watch and a Clarke constituent, told the group beforehand. “We need folks behind us to show them, ‘Hey, the climate movement ain’t nothin’ to mess with.’”
Neither Clarke nor Jeffries were in their offices to meet with the activists personally.
"We are reviewing the concerns brought to the office last week prior to any House action on the matter," said a spokesperson from Jeffries' office. "Rep. Jeffries is grateful to all who supported President Biden, Sen. Schumer and House Democrats in passing the Inflation Reduction Act."
Rep. Jeffries, who played a key role in passing the IRA, recently praised Schumer for reaching an agreement with Manchin in an interview with BKReader. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, when asked at her Brooklyn town hall Aug. 30, similarly said the deal was worth it in order to secure a historic climate package projected to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent over the decade.
The groups who rallied last week say fossil fuel concessions poison that progress.
“Evidence from the last decade clearly shows that promoting cleaner energy while still advancing new fossil fuel projects will not reduce climate pollution,” said Seth Gladstone, spokesperson for Food & Water Watch. “To maintain a chance of having a livable planet for future generations, we must halt all new fossil fuel development now.”
The deal is expected to be included in funding legislation this month. The letter--which includes signatures from more than 80 NY organizations--tells Pelosi and Schumer that including it “would represent a profound betrayal of frontline communities and constituents across the country.”
New York has benefitted from strong environmental protections, said Seth Laxman, a climate campaigner with Greenpeace USA. Climate groups have won victories over pipelines here in the past.
But, Laxman said, changing bedrock national environmental protection laws—“that affects anybody living on the planet.”