Manchin’s Deal Clears a Path to Finish the MVP

Senator Joe Manchin, ever the deal maker, managed to cut a side arrangement with Democratic leaders when crafting a compromise on the climate, energy and Medicare prescription drug bill. The agreed-to separate deal includes multiple provisions aimed at streamlining energy project permitting processes.

This adjacent understanding also has a specific provision for “the relevant agencies to take all necessary actions to permit the construction and operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.” Maybe, just maybe, the 303-mile natural gas pipeline from north central West Virginia to Virginia can finally be finished.

The pipeline is 94 percent complete, but regulatory hurdles and court challenges by anti-carbon environmentalists have delayed the project for years, well past the projected 2018 completion date. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is currently deciding whether to grant the applicants four more years to complete the project.

Pipeline opponents have been skillfully playing the long game. They hope the endless court challenges and regulatory delays will wear down the developers, just as they did with the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Duke Energy and Dominion Energy spent billions of dollars over seven years before throwing in the towel in 2020.

The proposed energy permitting provisions are supposed to streamline these processes without skipping over the necessary regulatory reviews. For example, the approval processes could occur simultaneously to save time and court challenges would be subject to a statute of limitations.

You might wonder why Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Biden would sign off on the side deal that helps the fossil fuel industry. This proposed streamlining of permitting will also help developers of solar, wind and other renewable energy sources who also must navigate the expensive and time-consuming regulatory process.

Neil Chatterjee, former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, told the New York Times, that all energy development will benefit. “This strikes me as a balanced approach,” he told the Times.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that U.S. energy consumption will grow through 2050, driven largely by economic growth.  The same is true in other parts of the world, particularly emerging nations.  Renewables will take on a greater share of the energy portfolio, but domestic and global dependence on natural gas will be around for decades to come.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 2019 that the Appalachian Basin alone contains over 200 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered and recoverable natural gas, but it is impossible to get more gas to market without more pipeline capacity.

Enough already with the protracted court delays and regulatory morass. It should not take an act of Congress to build a pipeline, but now that it has, that should settle it.




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