By John Hugh DeMastri
The debt ceiling deal between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden, would grant approval to the Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline, a long-sought win for Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
The 99-page package — which Biden on Sunday said was ready for Congressional approval — would require the Secretary of the Army to authorize all permits related to the West Virginia pipeline within 21 days and shield the project from legal challenges which have stalled the project, according to Reuters. While the deal falls short of Manchin’s full permitting reform wish list, which was shot down by bipartisan opposition last year, the proposal’s limited action on transmission line deployment and significant changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) could lead some House Democrats to oppose it, according to E&E News.
“What was true a week ago is true now — if we want to fully realize the economic, reliability, and environmental benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act, we need to increase the rate at which we deploy transmission,” Democratic Rep. Sean Casten of Illinois told E&E News. “The … deal does nothing to change that.”
The agreement makes what a White House official described as “modest” changes to NEPA as part of a “bipartisan compromise” to streamline the permitting process for clean energy and fossil fuel projects by mandating a one-year deadline for new energy projects to receive environmental impact assessments, with a two-year maximum otherwise, according to E&E News. The official argued that the deal was a win for environmental interests since it blocked Republican efforts to repeal the significant tax breaks for clean energy projects offered by the Inflation Reduction Act.
“House Republicans came to the negotiating table with a proposal attached to a vote on paying our country’s bills that represented, really, a broadside aimed at efforts to protect our environment and aimed at efforts to tackle the climate crisis,” the official told E&E News. “We have protected the substantive environmental safeguards in the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, in the Toxic Substances Control Act and the substantive provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act — NEPA — that sustains our people and our planet.”
The bill also includes an updated version of Republican Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana’s Builder Act, which originally allowed energy projects’ sponsors to conduct their own environmental reviews, a measure that Democrats consider a nonstarter, according to E&E News. The new version of the bill would only allow project sponsors to prepare such assessments with the approval and supervision of the relevant federal agencies.
McCarthy told reporters at the U.S. Capitol Sunday that negotiations between House Republicans and the White House on permitting reform and energy transmission would continue “because we need energy — all forms of energy, especially for our grid — to double,” according to Bloomberg.
“We made a commitment that we’re not stopping now,” McCarthy said, according to Bloomberg. “That would also deal with transmission, it would deal with pipelines, and others. I had that conversation with the president yesterday and with the White House.”