Manchin’s permitting reform deal on life support in face of GOP opposition
The controversial permitting reform bill unveiled by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) late Wednesday has only a slim chance of passing the Senate next week, as Republicans don’t want to give the West Virginia senator a victory after he resurrected President Biden’s tax and climate agenda in late July.
Republican senators, who had been shut out of negotiations over the permitting bill’s language, said Wednesday they don’t expect it to pass if attached to a short-term government funding bill that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) plans to bring to the floor next week.
GOP senators didn’t get a chance to look at the bill to reform permitting for energy projects until 6 p.m. Wednesday but predicted earlier in the day that if it fell short of a stronger permitting reform proposal offered by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), they wouldn’t vote for it.
Capito and Barrasso said Wednesday evening their staffs were reviewing the 91-page bill and said they would hold off on making final verdicts until they know more about it.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) outlined multiple problems with the draft of Manchin’s bill that circulated earlier this summer during a presentation he delivered to a Senate Republican lunch Wednesday.
His message to GOP senators was clear: Unless Manchin fixed multiple provisions that were problems for the fossil fuel industry, Republicans shouldn’t support it.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an advisor to the Senate GOP leadership, said he couldn’t see a government funding measure pass next week with Manchin’s permitting reform attached.
“I don’t know what Sen. Schumer’s plans are, whether he’s going to attach it to the CR. I doubt it’s going to pass,” Cornyn said, referring to a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government.
Capito, who has a competing permitting reform bill, said Wednesday afternoon that Manchin hasn’t shared any of the details of his legislation before it was made available to the media and general public.
Republicans say they don’t want to reward Manchin by passing his permitting reform resolution because Schumer is bringing it to the floor as part of a deal he struck with the West Virginia senator in July to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, which implemented a 15 percent corporate minimum tax and included $369 billion in energy investments to combat climate change.
“It’s going to be extremely difficult to do just because of the circumstances surrounding the deal that was made,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).
Rounds said he would take a close look at Manchin’s proposal if he’s willing to shift it substantially closer to the reforms that Capito has proposed but predicted that’s not likely to happen.
“I’m not sure he’d have the support of Democrats then. I think that it’s going to be a very difficult deal to get done,” Rounds added.
Even Democrats who support Manchin’s permitting reform bill say they won’t support it if it is rewritten to mirror Capito’s proposal as part of an effort to secure more Republican votes.
Manchin will need more than 10 Republicans to pass his permitting reform bill, as several Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have signaled opposition to marrying the Manchin permitting reform language with a short-term spending bill.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) is circulating a letter with the support of Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sanders urging Schumer to keep separate permitting reform and a short-term government funding bill that needs to pass by the end of next week.
But Merkley on Wednesday stopped short of threatening to vote against the government funding resolution if it includes permitting reform. He explained that he drafted the letter to draw attention to the concerns environmental justice groups have over Manchin’s bill.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has also released a statement saying the permitting reform language should not be added to must-pass legislation to keep the government funded.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) issued a statement Wednesday evening declaring his opposition to the Manchin bill because it would approve the construction of a hundred miles of the Mountain Valley Pipeline through his home state and he was not adequately consulted.
“I cannot support the Mountain Valley Pipeline-related provisions in this legislative text. Over 100 miles of this pipeline are in Virginia, but I was not included in the discussions regarding the MVP provisions and therefore not given an opportunity to share Virginians’ concerns,” he said.
Schumer was spotted having an intense conversation with Kaine just off the Senate floor shortly after the Virginia senator put out his statement.
Schumer faces an even bigger problem on the Republican side of the aisle, where opposition to Manchin’s bill has coalesced over the last two weeks.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday praised Capito’s permitting reform bill as a better option than Manchin’s.
“Very predictably, this background deal is crumbling before our eyes,” McConnell said on the Senate floor, making reference to Schumer’s promise to pass Manchin’s permitting reform bill before the end of September.
He predicted that Republicans would find Manchin’s bill insufficient to get enough domestic oil, gas and coal projects up and running to reduce the cost of mounting energy bills.
“Every indication thus far suggests [it] will be weak reform in name only legislation,” he said.
He promised all 50 Republicans would vote for Capito’s permitting reform bill if it’s included in the short-term funding measure instead of Manchin’s proposal.
“If our colleague across the aisle wants real permitting reform, Sen. Capito’s fantastic bill only needs Sen. Manchin plus nine more Democrats to clear this chamber,” McConnell said.
“Otherwise it would appear the senior senator from West Virginia traded his vote on a massive liberal boondoggle in exchange for nothing,” he said, referring to the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed in August because of Manchin’s support.
Manchin on Wednesday said he still expects Schumer to include his permitting reform proposal in the continuing resolution, which needs to pass by Sept. 30 to avoid a government shutdown.
He said Republicans may change their minds about supporting his bill once they review it more closely.
“When they see it — all sides need it. You can’t build anything in America today. So if you want to have transmission lines … you’re going to have to have it. So we’re hoping common sense kicks in sooner or later,” Manchin told reporters.