Manchin won a pledge from Democrats to complete a contentious pipeline


WASHINGTON — West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III has received a pledge from Democratic leaders and the White House to complete a highly controversial 304-mile gas pipeline in his state, his office said, a major concession won as part of negotiations about a climate and tax assessment.

Mr. Manchin, who reached a surprise agreement between Democrats last week to pass groundbreaking climate legislation, made easing permits for energy projects a requirement of the deal. On Monday, his office released details of the side deal he signed with New York Senator Chuck Schumer, Democratic majority leader, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Biden.

It would ensure that federal agencies “take all necessary steps to enable construction and operation” of the gas pipeline known as the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The project — which environmentalists, civil rights activists and many Democratic state legislators in Virginia have opposed for years — would transport natural gas from the Marcellus shale fields in West Virginia across nearly 1,000 streams and wetlands before ending up in Virginia.

The pipeline was originally supposed to be completed in 2018, but environmental groups successfully challenged a series of federal permits for the project in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth District in Richmond, Va.

The court overturned permits issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service because their analyzes of the negative effects on wildlife, sedimentation and erosion were flawed.

The delays were so great that the project’s certification from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will expire in October. The developers are looking for an extension for the second time.

Jared Margolis, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups fighting the pipeline, acknowledged Congress has the ability to set the courts aside and move the project forward. But, he said, “that won’t prevent a challenge” from opponents.

The side deal signed by Mr. Manchin and Democratic leaders would give the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit jurisdiction over all future legal challenges, taking the case away from the Fourth District, where environmental activists had achieved success.

Other parts of the agreement would make it harder for opponents to hold up energy projects under the National Environmental Policy Act, a fundamental environmental law, by setting a two-year deadline for challenges. It would also require the president to establish 25 “priority” projects on federal territory that should include fossil fuels and nuclear power. And it would revise part of the Clean Water Act to make it harder to block or delay pipeline projects.

Neither Mr Schumer nor Ms Pelosi responded to requests for comment. A White House spokesperson did not respond.

Some Democrats such as Raúl Grijalva, the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, have said they will not support measures that speed up pipelines or other energy projects.

But three people familiar with Mr. Manchin’s agreement said Democratic leaders would likely insert the Mountain Valley Pipeline and allow provisions in a piece of legislation to be passed, such as the bill that the federal government is funding, to make it happen. maximize opportunities.

Mr Manchin said Monday he believed the United States should reform licensing rules to increase energy production.

“Why do we go around the world asking people to do what we want to do ourselves?” said Mr. Manchin. “How do we get a permit procedure to deal with the challenges we have today and the urgency that we can’t do because of our permit.”

Environmentalists denounced the Mountain Valley Pipeline and approved the deal, calling on Democrats to reconsider that deal with Mr. Manchin.

“The implications of this side deal are very important, especially as Congress stands ready to accelerate the development of energy projects,” said Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice, an environmental group. She said she was particularly concerned that limiting time to review and challenge projects could allow developers to “tramp communities.”

Opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline called Mr. Manchin’s deal dangerous for water quality and the climate, noting that building a new pipeline would guarantee additional greenhouse gas emissions in the future. The pipeline is expected to deliver more than two billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

Notably, none of the environmental groups has called on lawmakers to vote against the climate and tax package, which currently includes $369 billion over ten years to divert the nation from fossil fuels. Energy experts have calculated that the total package will cut emissions by as much as 40 percent below 2005 levels by the end of this decade, even with more liberal permits and other measures Mr Manchin has put in place for fossil fuel development.

Some called the licensing deal a victory for all energy development.

“This seems like a balanced approach to me,” said Neil Chatterjee, the former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Mr Chatterjee said making it easier to obtain permits for projects could also help bring wind, solar and other renewable energies into the grid more quickly.

Mr Schumer has indicated that he hopes to hold a vote this week on the broader climate and tax law.

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