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Capito leads Republicans on permitting bill, beating Democrats on proposal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Ahead of the release of an anticipated Democratic bill addressing permitting changes and the Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Senate Republicans announced Monday their own legislation related to energy projects.

Capito — the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee — is the lead sponsor of the Simplify Timelines and Assure Regulatory Transparency Act, which would limit regulations and advance approval of the natural gas pipeline.

The measure stems from ongoing talks about permitting changes and the 303-mile system capable of transporting natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia once complete. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Democratic leaders reached an agreement regarding such legislation as part of talks regarding the Inflation Reduction Act, but legislative text on the energy proposal has yet to be released.

Capito wanted the Senate to consider permitting changes before the vote on the domestic policy measure. During the chamber’s consideration of the Inflation Reduction Act in August, she proposed an amendment to enact permitting changes, but senators rejected the proposed language.

“Since our calls for action and offers to see legislative text from the permitting ‘deal’ remain unheeded, Republicans are introducing this legislation today to deliver solutions to the roadblocks, delays, and postponements of key infrastructure projects across the country,” Capito said Monday in a statement.

Forty-three Republican senators are cosponsoring the legislation.

Capito’s bill would codify environmental regulation language from the Trump administration limiting oversight on the environmental impact of projects as well as federal jurisdiction over water bodies. It would additionally prohibit the Biden administration’s use of estimates regarding the potential economic effects of greenhouse gas emissions that could raise gasoline prices.

The bill would speed up the permitting process and project authorization.

The legislation also expedites the approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline to three weeks after the bill’s enactment. The Secretary of the Army would have to issue the necessary permits for completing the project and its operation, and the Department of Interior would have to publish a biological opinion and incidental take statement identical to a 2020 release; the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the opinion and statement in February because of concerns related to endangered species.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is 94% complete, but work has been hindered by legal challenges.

States would have the “sole authority” under the bill to enforce fracking regulations and permits, and states would have the right to monitor and approve production on federal lands.

Manchin is facing challenges in the pursuit of passing permitting legislation. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and more than 70 Democrats in the House of Representatives oppose the inclusion of the energy proposal in a continuing resolution funding the federal government. Congress has until the end of the month to pass such a measure to avoid a government shutdown.

There is a risk of trying to pass a stand-alone bill in the current Congress given the split Senate and Democrats’ slim House majority.

“This is something the Republican Party has wanted for the last five to seven years I’ve been with them,” Manchin said during an August roundtable in regards to permitting changes.

“It either keeps the country open, or we shut down the government. That’ll happen Sept. 30, so let’s see how that politics plays out.”

According to Manchin’s office, his plan would allow the president to designate high-priority energy infrastructure projects and include language setting limitations on legal challenges and maximum timelines for reviewing projects. The proposal would require agencies to take steps related to the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s construction and operation, and move further litigation to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“As Senator Manchin’s said, there has always been bipartisan support for comprehensive permitting reform and this introduction reaffirms that. He looks forward to getting it passed by the end of the month,” Manchin communications director Sam Runyon told MetroNews.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday that President Joe Biden remains committed to the agreement between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

“We support that deal and that vote, and we will work with Congress to determine the best pathway forward,” she said.

The House will return from its August recess on Tuesday. The final scheduled day for votes in both chambers is Sept. 30.

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