To win Manchin’s support for the climate, energy and health package that was engraved last week, Democratic leaders have agreed to try to push forward separate legislation on accelerating energy projects. These changes would be outside the bounds of the Senate budget procedure that the party uses to pass its budget bill, which would prevent Democrats from approving it with just 51 votes. The new deal would require 60 votes to pass and would need GOP support to pass into law. Republicans have backed similar measures in the past, but the deal could face defections from liberal Democrats, who have warned against facilitating the opening of new oil and gas projects.
The 100-seat Senate is now evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, but Vice President Harris can cast a deciding vote.
The side deal would set new two-year limits, or maximum timeframes, for environmental reviews of “major” projects, the summary says. It would also aim to streamline government processes for deciding energy project approvals by centralizing decision-making with a lead agency, the summary adds. The bill would also attempt to pave the way for approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would transport Appalachian shale gas approximately 300 miles from West Virginia to Virginia. This pipeline is a key priority for Manchin.
Other provisions would limit legal challenges to power projects and give the Department of Energy more power to approve power lines deemed “in the national interest,” according to the document. A provision in the deal could make it harder for government agencies to deny new approvals based on certain environmental impacts that aren’t directly caused by the project itself, said law firm partner Sean Marotta. Hogan Lovells representing the pipeline companies.
“It’s a pretty vague outline, but if you had that kind of effective rationalization, it could lead to the necessary building of energy infrastructure not only for fossil fuels but for all types of energy necessary for reliability and decarbonization,” said Neil Chatterjee, former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Still, the deal poses new challenges for Democratic lawmakers who view these permission changes as the necessary price to pay to secure Manchin’s support for hundreds of billions in new clean energy investment. Climate groups have widely said the trade is worth it because Manchin’s vote on the broader package will unlock long-sought subsidies and tax credits for solar, wind and other forms of energy renewable. But many Democrats were wary. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) previously said, “I really want to see all the permit details. We all knew that any deal Schumer made with Manchin would contain a lot of fossil fuels. The question is about balance.
The deal appears to have been the only way to secure Manchin’s vote for the broader climate deal. Manchin had expressed concern that approving hundreds of billions of dollars in government grants for energy projects could be defeated by red tape or climate lawsuits, and said the United States needed to do much more to avoid their dependence on authoritarian oil states.
“Manchin holds all the cards here, and that’s his bet,” said Liam Donovan, a GOP political strategist. “There’s not much Democrats can do under the reconciliation rules, so they inevitably have to look beyond the scope of the bill to seal the deal.”
Immediate reaction to the details of the deal was mixed. Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president for energy and environmental policy at the Center for American Progress, a center-left think tank, pointed out that “it appears that this agreement does not circumvent the need to collect information on the impacts of a proposed project”, meaning that its environmental impact could be mitigated. She also pointed out that the broader energy package includes additional funding for agencies to consider new energy projects.
In public and private discussions, Manchin has made it clear that he considers the approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline a top priority. Proponents characterized it as a way to help make the United States an exporter of liquefied natural gas, which the United States sends to help Europe amid the war in Ukraine.
Climate groups opposed the project, with a Analysis 2017 by Oil Change International, an advocacy group, finding that the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s greenhouse gas emissions would be around 26 coal-fired power plants or 19 million passenger cars.
The Democrats’ climate provisions would eclipse the impact of the West Virginia pipeline, in terms of impact on emissions. The firm Energy Innovation found that greenhouse gas emissions would decrease by up to 41 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 with the bill.
“We need to pass the Cut Inflation Act if we’re going to be on track to halving carbon pollution within a decade,” said Leah Stokes, energy policy expert at the Institute. University of California at Santa Barbara. “Without this legislation, we have no way to get there; with her we have a fighting chance. There are provisions with which I do not agree, but we must be clear: failure is not an option at the moment. We must ensure that climate investments cross the finish line.