US House Democrats ask leaders to not include permitting changes in funding resolution

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than 70 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives are asking leaders to not include energy permitting changes in a continuing resolution funding the federal government, noting legislators would consider allowing a government shutdown because of its inclusion.

Seventy-two lawmakers — led by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. — sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., on Friday, a day after Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., shared opposition to putting permitting changes in the funding measure.

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. (Office of U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva)

“We remain deeply concerned that these serious and detrimental permitting provisions will significantly and disproportionately impact low-income communities, indigenous communities, and communities of color,” the legislators stated. “The inclusion of these provisions in a continuing resolution, or any other must-pass legislation, would silence the voices of frontline and environmental justice communities by insulating them from scrutiny.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., reached a deal with Democratic leaders in July related to Congress considering permitting changes once the body returned to Capitol Hill from its August recess. Manchin announced the agreement alongside the Inflation Reduction Act, the domestic policy proposal President Joe Biden signed into law last month.

The permitting changes would include allowing the president to designate high-priority energy infrastructure projects, as well as the establishment of limitations on legal challenges and timelines for permitting reviews. The deal also includes the completion of the Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline, the 303-mile system capable of transporting fossil fuels from West Virginia to Virginia once complete.

Manchin and others have stated changes and the Mountain Valley Pipeline would be part of a continuing resolution that Congress will consider this month. Lawmakers must pass the legislation before the end of the month to avoid a government shutdown.

The House Democrats’ concerns include the possible impact on reviews mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act, in which the federal government must study the possible environmental effects of projects. Lawmakers also contended shorter reviews and changes to legal challenges would curtail public input and government accountability, and the designation of some projects would weaken environmental and health laws.

“We urge you to ensure that these provisions are kept out of a continuing resolution or any other must-pass legislation this year,” the group stated.

Sanders said Thursday on the Senate floor that Congress needs to focus more on addressing climate change than fossil fuel projects. Manchin later told reporters permitting changes and the pipeline are part of an approach on energy security.

Legislative text on permitting changes and the Mountain Valley Pipeline has yet to be released.

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