A side deal reached between Democratic leadership and Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) as part of their broader agreement on an economic package would overhaul the nation’s process for approving new energy projects, including by speeding up a gas pipeline proposed for West Virginia, according to a one-page summary obtained by The Washington Post.
The Manchin-Schumer side deal would overhaul the environmental assessment
To win Manchin’s support for the climate, energy and health care package that was etched last week, Democratic leaders agreed to try to advance separate legislation to speed up energy projects. Those changes would fall outside the bounds of the Senate budget procedure that the party uses to pass its budget proposal, making it impossible for Democrats to approve it with just 51 votes. The new deal will require 60 votes to be approved and will need GOP support to be signed into law. Republicans have supported similar measures in the past, but the deal could face defections from liberal Democrats, who have warned against making it easier to open new oil and gas projects.
The 100-seat Senate is now evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, but Vice President Harris can cast a vote.
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The side agreement would set new two-year limits, or maximum timelines, for environmental assessments for “major” projects, the summary says. It will also aim to streamline the government’s processes for deciding approvals for energy projects by centralizing decision-making with one lead agency, the summary adds. The bill would also attempt to clear the way for approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would transport Appalachian shale gas about 300 miles from West Virginia to Virginia. This pipeline is a key priority for Manchin.
Other provisions would limit legal challenges to energy projects and give the Energy Department more authority to approve electric transmission lines deemed to be “in the national interest,” according to the document.
“This is a pretty vague overview, but if you had this kind of effective streamlining, it could lead to the necessary development of energy infrastructure, not just for fossil fuels, but for all types of energy that are needed for reliability and decarbonization,” said Neil Chatterjee, former Commissioner and Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
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Still, the deal presents new challenges for Democratic lawmakers who view these permit changes as the necessary price to pay to secure Manchin’s support for hundreds of billions in new clean energy investments. Climate groups have largely said trade is worthwhile because Manchin’s vote on the broader package would unlock long-sought subsidies and tax credits for solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy.
Many Democrats have been wary. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) previously said, “I really want to see all the details of the permit. We all knew that any deal that would be struck between Schumer and Manchin would have a lot of fossil fuels in it. The question is about balance.”
Still, the deal appears to have been the only way to secure Manchin’s vote for the broader climate deal. Manchin had expressed concern about approving hundreds of billions of dollars in government subsidies for fossil fuel projects that could be defeated by red tape or climate lawsuits, saying the United States must do much more to avoid its reliance on authoritarian petrostates.
In both public and private conversations, Manchin has made it clear that he views approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline as a top priority. Supporters have characterized it as a way to help turn the US into an exporter of liquefied natural gas, which the US is sending to help Europe amid the war in Ukraine.
Climate groups have opposed the project, with a 2017 analysis by Oil Change International, an advocacy group, finding that greenhouse gas emissions from the Mountain Valley Pipeline would approximate 26 coal plants or 19 million passenger cars.