Sens. Manchinema And GQP Hostage Takers Got Manchin’s Pipeline Permitting Bill Included In the Budget Agreement

So I saw this “uh-oh this can’t be good” post on Axios the other day, Scoop: Sinema enters debt ceiling negotiations (excerpts):

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) has inserted herself into the debt ceiling negotiations, working with both sides to try to bridge differences on permitting reform, according to people familiar with the matter.

Permitting reform — a catch-all category that includes both Republican and Democratic plans to improve energy production and transmission — is emerging as a tough-to-resolve disagreement between the White House and congressional negotiators.

Republicans want to change the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) with the goal of cutting red tape for oil and gas companies when they develop new projects. Democrats want to make it easier for solar and wind farms to access transmission lines.

Sinema is trying to use her status as an “independent” senator — and her experience as a key vote [obstructionist] in last year’s showdown over the legislation that became President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act — to find common ground.

But some Democratic lawmakers are privately concerned that her 11th-hour effort to save the day will water down key green energy provisions.

On energy permitting revisions, Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a top McCarthy negotiator, have made NEPA reform a priority.

Democrats, for the most part, oppose significant changes to NEPA, but they do want to make it easier for renewable energy sources to plug into the electricity grid.

It turns out the budget deal green-lighted Joe Manchin’s favorite gas pipeline. The bill would approve all the remaining permits to complete the stalled Mountain Valley Pipeline, an Appalachian natural gas project that has been a top priority of  coal baron Joe Manchin.

CNN reports, Manchin could get a gas pipeline out of the debt ceiling deal, and environmental advocates are livid:

Sen. Joe Manchin’s monthslong effort to greenlight the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline – a project that will pipe methane gas across parts of West Virginia and Virginia – is likely to prevail in the bipartisan debt ceiling deal, angering environmental groups and some Democratic lawmakers.

Manchin helped secure a provision in the deal that would compel federal agencies to approve all remaining permits for the approximately 300-mile natural gas pipeline, as well as shield the project from further litigation.

The conservative Democrat from West Virginia, who has been critical of the Biden administration’s environmental goals, praised the White House and congressional Republicans this week.

“All of a sudden, [the White House] did their job, they negotiated. And Kevin McCarthy did his job by putting something first and starting this negotiation. So, I applaud both sides,” Manchin said in a Tuesday interview on a West Virginia radio show, “Talkline.”

While attaching the pipeline to the must-pass legislation has delighted West Virginia lawmakers, environmental groups are furious that Congress stepped in after they had successfully challenged the pipeline in court. As recently as last month, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit had struck down permits for the project on the grounds that they violate the Clean Water Act.

“Literally, they are changing the rules as we are playing the game,” Crystal Cavalier-Keck, co-founder of indigenous environmental justice group 7 Directions of Service, told reporters on a Tuesday call.

Environmental groups excoriated the effort to carve out exceptions for the pipeline as “immoral” and “unconscionable,” and some heaped blame on President Joe Biden’s administration as well as congressional lawmakers.

But White House officials said they defended Biden’s major climate law in the debt ceiling talks and successfully pushed back on Republican efforts to further weaken environmental protections.

“President Biden protected his historic climate legislation, stopped House Republicans from clawing back record funding for environmental justice projects, and secured a deal to get hundreds of clean energy projects online faster all while protecting the full scope of environmental reviews,” White House spokesperson Abdullah Hasan said in a statement.

[A] White House official said the debt limit provision makes good on a compromise that the White House and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer struck with Manchin last year to secure his vote for the Inflation Reduction Act.

In recent months, the Biden administration has signed off on several federal permits the project needed. But the debt ceiling legislation, if passed, would go another step further to shield a litigation-plagued project from further legal action. The legislation only allows the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to hear challenges on the legislation, rather than the project itself.

A Hail Mary effort to remove it

There could be a last-ditch effort to undo the pipeline piece of the debt ceiling bill. Lawmakers from both parties in the House and Senate have filed amendments to strip the pipeline from the legislation, with a coalition of Virginia Democrats in the US House supporting the effort, as well as a Republican congressmanfrom Texas.

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, also plans to file a Senate amendment to do just that – but it’s unclear if any of these efforts will be successful.

“Sen. Kaine is extremely disappointed by the provision of the bill to greenlight the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia, bypassing the normal judicial and administrative review process every other energy project has to go through,” a Kaine spokesperson said in a statement.

Politico adds, Virginia Democrats Tim Kaine and Jennifer McClellan aren’t happy with the White House for not alerting them of the Mountain Valley Pipeline project’s inclusion in the debt ceiling deal — and they’re not hiding it.

What’s happening: Virginia Democrats are fuming about the inclusion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in the debt ceiling deal reached between House Republicans and the White House — but are aiming their ire at the Biden administration for not giving them a heads-up beforehand.

The details: Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) criticized the White House for not alerting the lawmaker about including the natural gas pipeline, which would run from northwestern West Virginia and cut through parts of his home state, in the debt limit proposal.

What he said:

“It’s extremely frustrating because there could have been other vehicles to do it. I mean, it doesn’t have to go into the debt ceiling bill. … [The White House doesn’t] even bother to pick up the phone and call me. Have I made them mad? No, I’m the one they call to try and get cabinet secretaries confirmed. ‘Go talk to your colleagues. They’re not yet going to vote for Julie Su.’ … They call me and ask me to help out. So like, what did I do wrong?”

What he’s asking for: Kaine is requesting a vote on an amendment that would strip out the Mountain Valley Pipeline provision from the bill, arguing that if Republican senators get votes on their proposed amendments, he should be granted a vote as well.

“Look, if I get screwed by putting this thing in, and then we get [votes] only on Republican amendments and not on mine, I’m really going to be unhappy. So I should get an amendment on this.”

In the case the amendment fails —which is likely considering there isn’t enough Republican support to remove the pipeline project — Kaine stopped short of saying he would oppose the debt ceiling proposal.

Rep. Jennifer McClellan (D-Va.), who said she’s undecided on how she’ll vote on the debt ceiling bill, shared Kaine’s frustration on the lack of communication from the Biden administration.

“[The White House] say they’ve just accelerated what was already going to happen,” McClellan told POLITICO. “If that’s the case, then why bother?”

McClellan is leading other Virginia Democrats in introducing an amendment in the House to strip the project from the bill. But fair warning: It’s likely to fail in the Republican-controlled House.

A spokesperson for Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) told the Washington Examiner that while the Virginia Democrat opposes the inclusion of the pipeline, the senator will ultimately vote for the debt ceiling deal.

Significance: Kaine has been publicly against Congress weighing in on the Mountain Valley Pipeline — including during a deal struck last year between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Manchin to allow for a vote to approve the pipeline and broader reforms speeding up approval of energy projects, in exchange for Manchin’s vote on Democrats’ sweeping climate and health bill. Kaine came out against the deal when it was floated for inclusion in a government spending bill in September 2022 — and yet again underlined that he was not consulted about the details of the measure.

“I strongly oppose the Mountain Valley Pipeline provision of this legislation, which would greenlight this pipeline without normal administrative and judicial review and ignore the voices of Virginians,” Kaine said then in a statement. “The pipeline runs through Virginia for 100 miles and takes property from landowners, but I was not consulted as a deal was struck to approve it and thus not given an opportunity to share my constituents’ deep concerns.”

Fast forward: Permitting reform, along with the pipeline, were successfully blocked from being attached to the September 2022 spending deal — and later failed to be included in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed late last year.

The debt bill, in addition to approving MVP, includes a handful of measures pushed by Republicans to ease permitting reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act.


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