Biden's silent climate betrayal

Why activists are planning “the largest civil disobedience action in decades."

President Joe Biden never spoke a word about the Line 3 tar sands pipeline, which officially went online on Friday.

Nearly 900 people were arrested protesting it. More than 400 groups asked Biden to reject it. More than 200 Democratic donors and celebrities asked the same, as did 63 members of Congress. Countless rallies and direct actions targeted his attention.

Nobody got it, even amid controversy. When the oil company Enbridge paid local police over $2 million to outfit them with riot gear for indigenous protesters, Biden said nothing. When construction punctured an aquifer and Enbridge hid it for months, Biden said nothing. When women reported being harassed by pipeline workers—and when two Line 3 workers were arrested in a human trafficking sting—Biden said nothing.

Even when Biden’s good friend Jane Fonda said she was “sickened” by his inaction on Line 3, the president who promised swift action on climate change and indigenous rights said nothing. And while Biden himself remained silent on Line 3, his administration worked to ensure its approval. In court, Biden’s DOJ lawyers defended the project. On the ground, DHS helicopter pilots helped clear indigenous protestors by blasting them with sand.

When Biden cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline, he explained his reasoning clearly. “The United States and the world face a climate crisis,” his executive order read. Approving a new tar sands pipeline would not be in line with the need to fight it, and “would undermine U.S. climate leadership by undercutting the credibility and influence of the United States in urging other countries to take ambitious climate action.”

By allowing Line 3 to become operational now, Biden has done precisely what he sought to avoid: undermined his own climate credibility, and the U.S.’s ability to influence abroad. Biden could have easily paused Line 3’s construction by ordering the complete environmental review Trump never gave it. Instead, he chose to let it move forward—and ignored every attempt by his constituents to explain why.

Now, a new tar sands pipeline is online, and expected to add 50 coal plants worth of carbon pollution to the atmosphere every year. For context, the Keystone XL pipeline was expected to cause 51 coal plants worth of carbon pollution every year. Biden’s “coal plants eliminated” counter sits at one.

This isn’t Biden’s only recent climate betrayal, activists say. And in response, they’re planning “the largest civil disobedience action in decades, demanding President Biden use his executive authority to hasten the end of the era of fossil fuels.” You’ll learn more about that later in this week’s issue, where we speak to longtime indigenous anti-pipeline activist Joye Braun. First, a summary of the climate news you need to know.

—PENNEAST PIPELINE CANCELLED. “We stayed united in our opposition and we won!” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper. Today is a day to celebrate.” (Bloomberg).

—TRANSMOUNTAIN PIPELINE INSURER DROPS PROJECT. The world’s largest industrial insurance company, Chubb, announced it has stopped insuring the Trans Mountain Pipeline in Canada. The company will also no longer insure tar sands infrastructure projects like Line 3. (Insurance Business Canada, PropertyCasualty360).

—COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY GOING FOSSIL FREE. The school “will no longer install new fossil fuel connections in any new construction, refresh, or renovation projects. To support this transition, the university will evaluate how to fully electrify the campus by replacing the onsite combustion of fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy sources.” (Columbia).

MANCHIN WON’T SUPPORT BIDEN’S CLIMATE BILL UNLESS IT SAYS FOSSIL FUELS COUNT AS CLEAN ENERGY. The $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill we talked about last week is still being held up by the West Virginia Democrat, who said he won’t support its clean energy standard—that is, a mandate for utilities to generate a certain amount of clean electricity by a set date—unless natural gas counts as clean energy. Natural gas, for the record, is a high-polluting fossil fuel. (The Hill, Grist, National Geographic).

MANCHIN RAKES IN CAMPAIGN CASH FROM UTILITIES. He’s the second-largest recipient of utility money in the Senate. (Earther).

MASSIVE OIL SPILL IN CALIFORNIA. It’s not good, folks. (CNN).

Joye Braun will always remember the day Joe Biden revoked the Keystone XL pipeline’s permit—and not just because it was her birthday. To her activist community, Biden’s action seemed to signal he was “coming out strong” on indigenous rights and climate. “We were so excited,” she said.

She’s not so excited anymore. “It’s bone-chilling,” said Braun, a frontline organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network and a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, speaking of Biden’s decision to allow the Line 3 to become operational. “But I also know the fight’s not over.”

Braun is calling on people who care about the climate to join her in the next phase of the fossil fuel resistance—The People Vs. Fossil Fuels Mobilization. From October 11-15, she and thousands of other activists will gather for what they call “the largest civil disobedience action in decades, demanding President Biden use his executive authority to hasten the end of the era of fossil fuels.”

HEATED spoke to Braun about the upcoming event, and the reasons for it. What follows is a snippet of our conversation—paid subscribers will get the rest later this week.

Emily Atkin: How are you feeling about the Biden administration since the cancellation of Keystone XL?

Joy Braun: Biden right now is following in the footsteps of many other presidents before him, in that he has grown a forked tongue. He says one thing, but does the complete opposite in order to appease corporate interests that are hurting the planet and the waters, and violating human rights.

EA: What specifically has happened to make you say that he is trying to appease corporate interests? 

JB:  The violation of treaty rights. In so-called Minnesota, he hasn’t stopped Line 3. And treaty rights aren't even being considered in the replacement of Line 5. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is violating indigenous rights with the Eastern Band of Cherokee, and a host of other native nations. He could very seriously stop the LNG project in Tacoma, Washington, which is violating treaty territory. He could also stop LNG projects down in Texas, where there's been no environmental impact studies.

EA: It sounds like you're saying that, despite all the pressure on Congress to pass climate legislation right now, there's still a lot that the Biden administration could be doing unilaterally on fossil fuel infrastructure that it’s just not doing. Have you brought this up with the White House, and what has their response been if so?

JB: There's no response. They come back with these green Washington goals and ideas that they're pushing forward in the infrastructure bill -- saying, “Hey, we're going to put some money into carbon scrubbers to clean the air, and we're going to build carbon pipelines.” And it’s like, hello? Have you ever seen what a carbon pipeline can do when it explodes? It's ten times worse than a tar sand leak.

EA: How does it feel knowing that oil is going to run through that pipeline tomorrow? 

JB: It’s bone-chilling. It’s maddening. It’s scary. But I also know the fight’s not over. It’s just that we have to shift gears and how we attack it.

EA: How do you shift gears on Line 3 now?

JB: Well, the manoomin case is still going forward. Manoomin is the Anishinaabeg word for wild rice. That's a federal case to determine manoomin is sacred, which it is, and that’s moving forward. And there's other other cases that White Earth is bringing up. We move to the courts.

EA: Could Biden still do anything about Line 3?

JB: Yeah, he could order a full environmental impact statement. 

EA: How does the People Versus Fossil Fuels Mobilization fit into the strategy now for Line 3?

JB: It will highlight the shift in the fight, and give us some much-needed energy for that shift. When you're in the frontlines of these types of fights, going head to toe with police, you can oftentimes feel like you’re stuck out there alone. You know people are helping online, and you see the well wishes. But sometimes it helps to meet your comrades, to meet your family, to meet your friends. To know that you're supported, and that your fight isn't going to go away. 

So The People Versus Fossil Fuels Mobilization is important not only for Line 3, but for the other pipeline and fossil fuel fights to have a place where we can show the world that we stand united, that this really isn’t just one specific fight. This is a big fight, and it’s against fossil fuels.

EA: What else are you hoping to accomplish with this mobilization?

JB: The main thing is, don't believe the greenwashing. President Biden can claim to be the climate president, but if he’s allowing all these fossil fuel projects to continue, that doesn't make sense. We’re saying, come out and join us, and learn about all of these fights. You might even find out that you're near a project you didn’t know about.

Learn more here.

Fish is still on vacation, but don’t worry. HEATED readers have provided some of their own furry friends to keep the Catch of the Day going strong.

First up is Lady Schnitzel, a rescue chiweenie—and her emotional support cat, Gwendolyn. According to Lady Schnitzel’s human, Christine, she “loves cuddles, hates fossil fuels, and thinks net zero is not good enough!” Fish approves.

Next up is Uma, a very good girl. But be warned—Uma’s human, Liz, says she stinks.

“She got skunked late Saturday night. It was a matter of time,” Liz said. “We live next to woods that harbor skunks. With warmer winters due to climate change, skunks are having larger litters and surviving longer so we need to become skunk-dog-wash experts.” Fish did not know this was a climate change impact, and is very alarmed. But he would cuddle anyway, no doubt about it.