CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As part of their talks on a policy package addressing health care, climate change and deficit reduction, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., reached an agreement with other leaders about changing the nation’s permitting process for energy projects.
Manchin announced Monday developments on that understanding, stating Schumer, President Joe Biden and House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are committed to passing permitting legislation this fall as well as taking steps needed for completing work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Manchin, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, delivered the update as senators prepared for a final week of action on Capitol Hill before its August recess.
The deal includes allowing the president to designate high-priority energy infrastructure projects, establishing a statute of limitations for legal challenges and working to complete the 303-mile pipeline that will transport natural gas from West Virginia to southern Virginia.
The agreement is part of Manchin’s commitment to passing a domestic policy package. The $739 billion Inflation Reduction Act includes investments in energy, an extension of health insurance subsidies and funding for deficit reduction. Revenue would be raised through a 15% corporate minimum tax, Medicare negotiating prescription drug costs, increased enforcement of tax codes, and closing the carried interest loophole.
According to a summary from Manchin’s office, the permitting provisions would allow the president to designate at least 25 energy infrastructure projects deemed of national importance, in which permitting would be prioritized. The project types must be balanced between various fields, and the president would have to consider factors like reducing consumer costs and improving energy reliability.
The proposal would set a maximum timeline of two years for “major projects” and one year for “lower-impact projects,” and establish a statute of limitations in court cases. It also clarifies the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s role in regulating hydrogen pipelines and related facilities.
The plan directs agencies to take the necessary actions to complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would be capable of transporting two billion cubic feet of natural gas a day from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. The pipeline would move natural gas through Wetzel, Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Fayette, Greenbrier, Summers and Monroe counties.
Manchin’s office states the pipeline is 94% completed, but the project has been hampered by court battles and legal issues. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is currently presiding over the matter; the provisions would put all further litigation before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Manchin is a long-time supporter of the Mountain Valley Pipeline; he joined Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Reps. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and Carol Miller, R-W.Va., on a July 20 letter asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to support the project’s completion and approve a four-year permit extension.
Manchin told reporters last week that the pipeline should “be at the top of the heap” of the nation’s energy projects.
“There’s been bipartisan support for permitting reform for a long, long time, and we finally brought it to fruition,” he continued. “This is something the United States of America should be able to do without getting bogged down with litigation after litigation after litigation and be able to move the things that are necessary for us to defend ourselves as a nation.”
Capito — who already announced her opposition to the Inflation Reduction Act — called on Congress to pass permitting changes before the domestic policy package.
“If Democrats have agreed to pass strong permitting reform, then they should release exact legislative text — not a framework — for consideration and enactment before the Senate considers their partisan reckless tax-and-spending spree bill,” she said Monday.
Capito added, “Republicans have stood strong in advocating for permitting reform for years. Instead of this partisan exercise that the Democrats are pursuing, we should be working together toward a bipartisan compromise to enhance energy production in this country.”
Biden and congressional leaders have committed to passing permitting legislation before the current fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
Manchin is a key vote for Democrats in the split Senate; he has rejected larger domestic policy bills over the last year, citing concerns about the national debt and inflation. Manchin told reporters Monday he will speak to fellow Democrat Kyrsten Sinema about the Inflation Reduction Act in an attempt to win her support.