Energy & Environment

Manchin push faces uncertain future after Senate flop

Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) push to speed up the pace of energy infrastructure approvals faces an uncertain future after the proposal couldn’t garner enough support when attached to a must-pass government-funding bill. 

Democrats on Tuesday pulled the package out of the stopgap measure amid opposition from both conservatives and progressives.

They’re expected to try to move Manchin’s measure again, but hurdles remain as the package will continue to have detractors on both the left and the right.

Tying permitting reform to the government funding measure was expected to improve the chances that Manchin’s bill would get across the finish line. The idea was that opponents in the Democratic Party would not want to vote against funding the government. 

But Republicans didn’t play ball. They said Manchin’s bill didn’t go far enough on permitting reform, and they did not want to vote to help him get a political victory he could hail back home.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that he, Manchin and others “will continue to have conversations about the best way to ensure responsible permitting reform is passed before the end of the year.”

Manchin a day after the measure was pulled indicated that he’d like to work with his West Virginia colleague Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) on compromise legislation.

“I think we both have an interest in doing something, and both Senator Schumer and Senator McConnell both showed great interest,” Manchin said Wednesday, referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

Manchin has proposed a series of changes to the country’s approval process for energy infrastructure.

He wants to impose speedier environmental reviews, provide more federal authority over electricity transmission lines and require the president to designate 25 “priority” projects that include both fossil fuel and clean energy infrastructure. 

His package also included a requirement for federal agencies to issue approvals of a specific natural pipeline in his home state called the Mountain Valley Pipeline. 

Schumer, along with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the White House, agreed to take up permitting reform as a condition for Manchin’s approval of the Democrats’ sweeping tax, climate and health care bill. 

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have indicated that they want to keep talking.

“We’ve got to let the dust settle and then we have to keep negotiating,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). 

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said he wanted to see more people at the table and more “teeth” for the timelines compared to Manchin’s proposal. 

“You’ve got to have more involvement than just Joe and Chuck,” he said, referring to Manchin and Schumer. 

“I’d like to have some sort of shot clock with teeth so that agencies can’t just do a pocket veto of things that otherwise meet every criteria. This permitting reform didn’t really have that,” he said.

It’s not clear how many votes the original legislation would have won, with Republican leadership whipping against it, and about nine Democrats expressing their own opposition. 

Any effort to get permitting reform across the finish line moving forward will likely require a delicate balance: shifting it rightward enough to garner Republican support, but not so far to the right that it loses Democrats worried about climate change and pollution.

A vehicle is also an issue.

It’s conceivable that the legislation could be approved as a stand-alone measure, but given time constraints it is more likely to pass if it is attached to another must-pass piece of legislation.

The National Defense Authorization Act and an omnibus government funding measure are two possibilities, though some are already saying the defense bill should only include measures specific to national defense.  

“I’d rather see germane amendments,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).

“I don’t know that that is the path forward right now,” she said of putting permitting reform into the defense bill. 

Tags Bill Cassidy Brian Schatz Charles Schumer Charles Schumer Climate change Joe Manchin Joe Manchin Mitch McConnell Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Nancy Pelosi permitting reform Shelley Moore Capito
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