Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) unveiled the text Wednesday evening of a permitting reform bill that would streamline the review process for energy infrastructure and guarantee approval and completion of the 94% finished Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC (MVP) project.

MVP

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said he would attach the bill to a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government that must be passed by Sept. 30 to avoid a potential government shutdown.

Senate Republicans and some progressive Democrats have signaled they would not vote for the CR if the permitting reforms are included. The CR requires 60 votes to prevent a filibuster.

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Manchin’s reform package, dubbed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022, includes several provisions designed to speed up permitting and prevent projects from being bogged down by endless litigation.

Manchin’s fellow West Virginian, GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, reportedly said Thursday that she would support Manchin’s proposal, citing the MVP component as a key factor in her decision. Capito, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced a competing permitting reform bill earlier this month with 43 Republican co-sponsors.

The MVP project would transport up to 2 Bcf/d of natural gas out of the Appalachian Basin. 

Other key components of Manchin’s bill include setting a two-year target for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews for major energy projects and a 150-day statute of limitations for court challenges to energy projects.

The bill would also expedite the process for approving or denying projects under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act and give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission jurisdiction to regulate interstate hydrogen pipelines under the Natural Gas Act.

In addition, it would require the president to define a list of strategically important energy and mineral projects.

It also would give the federal government increased permitting authority for electricity transmission lines, a measure considered essential for mass adoption of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

A Bipartisan Problem

The natural gas industry has long advocated for an overhaul of the current permitting process.

“Permitting reform must confront challenges and delays that have hampered the development of domestic energy infrastructure,” the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America’s (INGAA) Amy Andryszak, CEO, told NGI via email. “From pipelines to power lines – the permitting process in place today is not aligned with our nation’s long-term needs for energy reliability, affordability, and climate security.”

She added, “While we are still reviewing the proposal introduced Wednesday to better understand how it will impact our industry, Senator Manchin should be commended for keeping this critically important bipartisan issue at the forefront of the national dialogue. INGAA remains committed to working with Democrats and Republicans on legislation that improves the pipeline infrastructure permitting process.”

American Gas Association CEO Karen Harbert expressed a similar view Thursday.

“It is significant to see Republicans and Democrats acknowledge that permitting is a serious impediment to building badly needed infrastructure in our country,” Harbert said. “America’s natural gas industry stands ready to invest in more American energy and infrastructure, but our impenetrable permitting process stands in our way.”

She continued, “Senators Manchin and Capito deserve credit for keeping the spotlight on permitting reform. This is not a partisan problem – it is an American problem – and we are eager to work with anyone that is interested in solutions.”

‘Revenge Politics’

Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, voted in support of President Biden’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) on the condition that Democratic leaders would advance the permitting reforms.

“No matter what you want to build, whether it’s transmission pipelines or hydropower dams, more often than not, it takes too long and drives up costs,” Manchin said Wednesday in remarks to fellow senators. “You can double your cost within a five- to six-, seven-year period from what the original cost may have been.”

The American people, he said, are facing a “200% increase in natural gas,” while gasoline is up 67% and residential electricity is up 15%. 

“I can assure you, the longer the time goes on, the more the price goes up,” he said. “That’s what we’re facing in America today with energy.”

Manchin also addressed opposition to his permitting reform proposal by “far left senators and Republican leadership.”

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with Democrats, said he would not vote in favor of permit reform. While most Republicans favor changes to the federal permitting system, the looming midterm elections in November could scuttle bipartisan dealmaking. 

“I guess the old saying goes that politics makes strange bedfellows,” Manchin said in his remarks. “I’ve been around for a long time in state politics and federal politics. I’ve never seen stranger bedfellows than Bernie Sanders and the extreme liberals siding with Republican leadership. In the Democratic caucus, I’ve never seen this happen.

“So, what I’m hearing is that this is revenge politics toward one person, me. And I’m thinking, this is not about me.”

Manchin also chastised Republicans following their plans to torpedo his permitting reform. GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas made stinging remarks on Monday indicating that Manchin would get no help from the other side of the aisle.

“Generally speaking, Republicans are for permitting reform,” Cornyn said. However, Manchin’s decision to vote in favor of President Biden’s IRA “has engendered a lot of bad blood.” Said the Texas senator, “there’s not a lot of sympathy on our side to provide Sen. Manchin a reward.”

In response, Manchin said it was irresponsible to not work for the good of the country. The CR “doesn’t pass without the Republicans,” he said.

“To say, ‘We did this and we voted against it because of Joe Manchin’ makes no sense whatsoever. None whatsoever. So, we’re in this quandary right now. They’re going to vote and it’s going to be in the CR. 

“And if they’re willing to say they’re going to shut down the government because of a personal attack on me, or by not looking at the good of the country, that is what makes people sick about politics. It makes me sick about politics,” Manchin said.

“You know me, if it looks good, I don’t care whether it was a Republican or Democratic idea. I’m for it. As long as I can go home and explain it, it makes sense.”

Carolyn Davis contributed to this story.