Notes from Underground 

On the Future of Democracy and the Environment: The Mountain Valley Pipeline 

by Adam Arnold 


Democracy and environmental protection in the United States face common challenges, namely the influence of money on politics and the tendency of industry to concern itself with short-term profit rather than long-term sustainability and public safety. 

Senator Manchin: A Democrat Opposed to Democracy 

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) illuminates these concerns admirably. His machinations and his opportunistic reliance on an ethically-suspect Supreme Court have paid off for him, at the expense of the environment and the voting public. 

The Supreme Court’s approval of construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVPL), which will transport natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina, gave the win to Senator Manchin, who threatened to explode 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) unless it left room for fossil fuel projects like the MVPL. 

Hailed as the best effort yet to address climate change, the IRA is falling short of its potential through the undue influence of Senator Manchin and other short-sighted public officials, and their corporate backers. Since the IRA’s passage, Manchin has railed against its implementation regarding green energy projects, seemingly forgetting that combatting climate change is a principal goal of the IRA. 

The Senator then proceeded to double down on his anti-democratic ideals, not only coercing funding for the MVPL into the deal that raised the federal debt ceiling earlier this year, but including provisions to make further litigation against the pipeline’s construction illegal. This outrageous giveaway to corporate power is what the Supreme Court ultimately approved. Lamentably, the Biden Administration has also proceeded to undermine its own environmental goals by permitting construction to go forward. 

In the short-term, the fossil-fuel-loving Senator seems to have done well for himself and his state. In the long term, his failure as a leader will likely be his epitaph. Instead of leading his state away from unsustainability and developing ways to adapt to a future which cannot rely on dirty energy sources, he has chosen the path of corporate greed, and indifference to human health and the environment. 

If Senator Manchin chooses, as many fear he will, to run for President in 2024 under a third-party banner, he may achieve self-actualization as the man for whom real progress was too frightening, incremental progress too unprofitable, and regression an acceptable outcome – and as the man who opens the door for a second term under President Donald Trump. Given Trump’s track record, it is reasonable to question whether US democracy and the global environment can withstand such an eventuality. 

The Senator has manipulated an imperfect system, exploitated deliberate loopholes that enable self-interest to overcome public interest, and relied on support – legal but undemocratic – from industries that thrive on deception. Regardless of the 2024 election, without patching those loopholes democracy and the environment will suffer as surely as they would under a second Trump term. 

With the hottest global temperatures in recorded history occurring now on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis, and with the dire consequences of climate change becoming increasingly common and visible, the time for action grows short if it has not already passed. The sociopathic self-interest of destructive industries must be soundly dismissed, its unrepentant perpetrators duly punished, and the global recovery from damage done (and simultaneous preparation for damage to come) wholeheartedly commenced. The Manchins of the world, just as surely as the Trumps, must be replaced by actual leaders, who understand the need for sustainability in our energy and economic sectors and who put human and environmental concerns above their own self-interest. 

Democracy, Sustainability, and Accountability 

Government Accountability Project is committed to the support, protection, and promotion of whistleblowers – those who disclose important truths to the affected public. But other commitments are inextricably tied to that core mission, among them the commitment to democratic principles, and to the preservation of a livable environment.  

The heart of democracy is the empowerment of the governed to have a voice in their government, and the core goal of environmental protection is to assure a healthy living space for all those living within that space and for future generations. Neither democracy nor the environment can thrive where some can exert influence for their own benefit, at the expense of all. 

One facet of a functioning democracy, then, must be the preservation of a safe and clean environment. By extension, the global environment cannot be allowed to deteriorate, lest the protections of democracy prove inadequate in the face of global crises, through which problems may be exported rather than remedied, delaying the inevitable rather than preventing the preventable. 

In a period of division and divisiveness unmatched since the 1860s, a rallying point for those across the political spectrum ought to be a demand for an end to corruption. And what is corruption if not the power of money influencing policymakers to enact policies that favor a few at the expense of the many, rather than policies that do the most good and the least harm? 

For those who care about democracy in the United States, rallying behind candidates of any political stripe or party who will fight to separate democracy from anti-democratic influences may soon override any “culture war” distractions. And, with democracy and with the environment, one might say “as go the United States, so goes the world.”