Energy & Environment

Manchin releases proposed text on permitting reform amid bipartisan skepticism

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) released the text of his proposed changes to the country’s process for approving energy projects, seeking to make his case to skeptical lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. 

Manchin’s text includes several provisions previously outlined in a fact sheet, including those that would benefit a controversial natural gas pipeline that runs through his home state known as the Mountain Valley Pipeline. 

The legislation would also limit the timelines for environmental reviews that are part of the approval process to two years for major projects and one year for those that are less significant. 

It further requires the president to keep a list of 25 energy projects of strategic national importance for 10 years.

The new legislation specifies that for the first seven of those years, five of the 25 projects must be related to either fossil fuels or biofuels, six must be for clean energy and four must be related to critical minerals. 

Manchin’s push is facing some resistance from Democrats and Republicans.

Democrats have expressed concerns that speeding up the approval process could undercut environmental inspections of potentially polluting projects. They are also worried the proposal could make it easier to advance fossil fuel infrastructure.  

Several Republicans have said that Manchin’s proposal may not be strong enough to win their vote and have also expressed anger over how Manchin’s deal came together. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) reached a deal with Manchin to pursue the permitting reforms in exchange for Manchin’s support for a massive tax, climate and health care bill that Congress approved in August.

Manchin announced he had reached a deal shortly after the passage of a semiconductor bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had threatened to torpedo the semiconductor effort if Democrats went forward with their separate legislation, and many in the GOP say they feel burned by the timing. 

Most Republicans are backing an alternative bill from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) that also aims to speed up the timeline for environmental reviews. 

Capito’s bill goes further, with provisions that prevent the federal government from restricting fracking and allowing states to take over authority from the federal government for energy production on public lands.

Both the Capito and Manchin proposals also both seek to limit state authority to block energy projects that run through their waters, giving them just a year to do so and limiting the reasons states can use to justify their decisions.

Yet Capito’s legislation would also codify a Trump-era rule that limited which waters are subject to federal protections, something Manchin’s bill does not do. 

For the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Manchin’s bill specifies that within 30 days, federal agencies need to issue authorizations for its construction and operation. It also says that these actions aren’t subject to judicial review. Capito’s proposal is similar, but would give agencies 21 days. 

Manchin’s legislation also seeks to set a statute of limitations barring challenges to agency permitting decisions that are not filed within 150 days. 

It also aims to build out  the country’s electricity system by giving a government agency known as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the authority to promote transmission facilities both within and between regions of the country. 

Schumer has said he would put the provisions in a stopgap funding measure that would prevent a government shutdown, something liberal opponents of the deal are trying to separate so they don’t have to choose between supporting the deal or shutting down the government. 

Upon seeing the specifics, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a leading critic of the effort, was displeased. 

“These dangerous permitting shortcuts have been on industry wish lists for years. And now they’ve added the Mountain Valley Pipeline approval as the rotten cherry on top of the pile,” he said in a statement. 

“The communities that are already hit hardest by the fossil fuel industry’s messes certainly don’t want or deserve this,” he added. “Right now, our focus should be on keeping the government open, not destructive, unrelated riders. I urge leadership to listen to the many members asking to keep this out of a Continuing Resolution and avoid a shutdown standoff this country doesn’t need.”

Manchin has made the case, however, that under the current system, the approval process is much too lengthy. 

“No matter what you want to build, whether it’s transmission, pipelines, hydropower dams, more often than not, it takes too long.”

Tags Charles Schumer Charles Schumer Climate change Inflation Reduction Act Joe Manchin Joe Manchin Mitch McConnell Mountain Valley pipeline Raul Grijalva Shelley Moore Capito
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