Democratic leaders to take up environmental permitting reform for Manchin vote

Democratic Senate leadership and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have reached an agreement to separately reform federal energy permitting in exchange for Manchin’s support for a larger social spending package, according to a summary obtained by The Hill. 

According to the agreement, first reported by The Washington Post, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Senate leaders will take up a separate bill that will fast-track the permitting process. The deal would set a two-year ceiling on the environmental review process for major energy projects and place interagency reviews under the authority of a single lead agency. 

Separately, the deal would set a statute of limitations for legal challenges to new energy projects and, in cases where a court throws out a permit for such projects, set a “reasonable schedule and deadline” no longer than 180 days.

It also includes completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline that has been a pet project for the West Virginia senator. In March, months after Manchin seemingly torpedoed an earlier climate bill, he floated the idea of President Biden invoking the Defense Production Act to complete the project. 

The report comes nearly one week after Manchin announced he will back the Inflation Reduction Act, a climate, tax and drug spending package, shortly after seemingly walking away from talks on the matter. 

The side deal would not be part of reconciliation, the legislative process Democrats plan to use for the new bill, which only requires a simple majority. This would mean the 50-50 Senate would need the support of multiple Republican senators to pass the measure.

Although a number of factors contribute to gas prices, congressional Republicans have frequently assailed the Biden administration as throwing up roadblocks to energy production. The administration has defended itself by pointing to factors like unused leases currently held by energy companies and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which sent prices skyrocketing earlier this year. 

The agreement is likely to raise mixed emotions for environmentalists, who have spent years seeking to pressure Manchin to back climate legislation before the potential loss of control of Congress in November could close the door on the opportunity. Now, with Manchin committed to the IRA, those same advocates may face a scenario where the price of Manchin’s cooperation is the further buildout of American fossil fuel infrastructure.