Manchin Gets Mountain Valley Pipeline Deal Into Debt Bill
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin slipped into the debt-limit deal a measure meant to accelerate a multi-billion-dollar natural gas pipeline that’s been repeatedly stalled on environmental concerns, according to people familiar with the matter.
Manchin has tried for more than a year to secure a side deal for construction of the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline, which cuts through the Democratic lawmaker’s home state of West Virginia. The project stalled after a federal court rejected a permit to cross a national forest.
President Joe Biden’s negotiators decided that because the project is nearly done anyway — and has cleared almost all its legal hurdles — it would be unwise to reject Manchin’s proposal, one of the people said.
Democrats close to the talks argue that the project represents less than 1% of the total emission reductions expected from last year’s Inflation Reduction Act, Biden’s signature tax-and-climate law.
The language in the debt bill would force agencies to take all necessary actions to permit the construction of the pipeline and would give the DC Circuit jurisdiction over future litigation involving the project.
For years, its approvals have been challenged in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The debt deal preserves environmental law that Republicans wanted to overhaul with sweeping changes to federal permitting. As part of the talks, GOP negotiators pushed for energy-permitting reform to hasten project approvals.
Mountain Valley Pipeline’s developers, a group led by Pittsburgh-based Equitrans Midstream Partners LP, have said the pipeline is 94% completed, but that it still needs permits to build across streams and protected habitats.
It is years behind schedule. Its completion would provide drillers in the gas-rich Appalachian Basin with much-needed takeaway capacity.
Environmental advocates expressed outrage that the pipeline provision was included. It will “dramatically roll back bedrock environmental laws that give voice to frontline communities and sabotage agencies whose job is to protect the environment and working families,” said Jean Su, energy justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Congress should reject these poison pills and pass a clean debt-ceiling bill.”
Specifically, the legislation would require the US Army Corps of Engineers to issue a permit for the project within 21 days of enactment. It also limits court review of agency permits and approvals for the pipeline, and designates the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit with exclusive jurisdiction over challenges to that section of law, according to the bill’s text.
“Last summer, I introduced legislation to complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline. I am pleased Speaker McCarthy and his leadership team see the tremendous value in completing the MVP to increase domestic energy production and drive down costs across America and especially in West Virginia,” Manchin said in a statement.
Negotiators for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy were receptive to adding the project to the debt bill, and Democratic negotiators agreed to it fairly early in the talks, one of the people said. Biden has previously said publicly that he supports Manchin’s permitting-reform proposal, including in a statement in December 2022.
When McCarthy briefed House Republicans on the deal, he didn’t tell them about the special accommodation for Manchin.
McCarthy told them the permitting issues were still being hashed out, but he didn’t mention the West Virginia senator.
Manchin’s Senate term expires in January 2025. He hasn’t said whether he will seek reelection. West Virginia Republican Governor Jim Justice is running for the seat.
By: Jennifer Jacobs
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