Consent is the process of getting federal approval for energy projects, including oil and gas pipelines, which are often extensively assessed for their environmental impact. It can be a long and expensive process, and while Republicans and Democrats agree that the experience can be improved, they disagree on what those reforms entail.
sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee who has deep ties to the coal industry?, has long struggled with the current permitting process, arguing that it is too complicated. This summer, he struck a deal with Senate leader Chuck Schumer: In exchange for Manchin’s support of the Inflation Reduction Act, Schumer secured a vote on allowing reforms that would streamline the approval of fossil fuel and renewable energy projects.
Last week, Schumer announced: that he plans to link these licensing reforms to the short-term spending bill expected to fund the government through mid-December, known as a rolling resolution (CR). The decision has led to the ousting of more than 70 members of the House, including many progressives, and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
In a letter to both Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Last week, House lawmakers argued that Manchin’s reforms would make it easier to green-light harmful oil and gas projects and reduce voters’ ability to oppose such efforts. Additionally, they claim that linking the policy to a law to be passed would force lawmakers to choose between “protecting … communities from further pollution or financing the government.”
Sanders echoed many of these concerns in a fiery speech last week, later saying he would not vote for a CR that allows reform.
As a father of four and grandfather of seven, I say this: If we don’t address the existential threat of climate change now, it will be too late. pic.twitter.com/5GPOkFog9M
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) September 12, 2022
For now, it is uncertain whether democratic opposition to the reforms allowed would be enough to sink a CR altogether. Although 76 MPs voiced their opposition, they did not specify whether they would block the bill if it got to the ground. Depending on how many lawmakers are willing to vote down the bill in the House, there could be enough Republican support to make up for those losses. Likewise, Republicans’ support in the Senate could neutralize Sanders’ vote in the opposition. It is also possible that progressive pressure will influence the final legal text of the permit reform, which has yet to be released.
“I don’t know how a CR vote will go if the rider gives that permission, but the opposition is loud and only getting louder,” said Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, in a statement. “I encourage leadership to listen to its caucus and keep us out of a deadlock that no one wants.”
What is in Manchin’s proposed reform?
While the legal text for the proposed reforms is still being finalized, a memo circulated by Manchin’s office earlier this year concerns many Democrats and activists.
Policies outlined in that memo would put a two-year limit on government environmental assessments for major projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). There is currently no limit to how long these reviews can take, flexibility some activists and Democrats say is important to ensure affected communities have time to submit their input and that these concerns are properly assessed. On average, a current NEPA review takes 4.5 years, according to the Council for Environmental Quality.
“Shortening the timeline doesn’t mean a better rating, it means a worse rating,” said Jean Su, the energy justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, who said these agencies also need more funding to do their job well. .
The proposed reforms would also limit the amount of time opponents of a project can file legal objections for approval, another effort activists see as limiting a community’s ability to raise issues it may have with a particular build. .
Manchin and others seeking to expedite consideration of these energy projects say this would accelerate energy production, boost private sector investmentand create new jobs.
The memo also calls on the president to name 25 high-priority energy projects that would prioritize licensing, including efforts in fossil fuels and renewable energy. The idea here is that fossil fuel projects would continue to be treated as major investments alongside other clean energy efforts. However, the continued prioritization of fossil fuels is a major problem for progressives who view fossil fuel spending as counterintuitive. They note that any new policy that encourages fossil fuel production is one that ignores the seriousness and root of climate change.
“At a time when climate change threatens the very survival of our planet, why would anyone talk about significantly increasing carbon emissions and expanding fossil fuel production in the United States?” Sanders asked in his floor speech.
Finally, the memo proposes requiring the federal government to take the necessary steps to complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a controversial 300-mile natural gas pipeline stretching from West Virginia to Virginia, for which multiple permits have been rejected by the courts. because of the environmental impact.
This particular provision has led to mass withdrawal of activists, hundreds of them visited the Capitol last week. They argue that if it were included in the final law, it would mean the federal government would allay community concerns about the pipeline’s impact as well as curb courts.
A separate memo shared by Senate Democrats has highlighted how an accelerated permitting process could help certain renewable energy projects, though Su says allowing reforms would benefit more fossil fuel projects. fuels, which typically experience greater licensing delays due to the degree of revision required . This second memo suggests that allowing for changes could be more efficient in establishing interstate electrical power transmission lines, which will be necessary to fuel the country’s shift to clean energy.
Democrats opposed to Manchin’s proposal, however, seem largely unfazed by this claim and are more focused on how its provisions could boost fossil fuel projects.
The fate of the permit reform – and the CR – is uncertain
Depending on how many Democrats vote against a CR that involves reform, the legislation can still pass the House and Senate with Republican backing.
So far, Sanders is the only senator who has pledged to vote against the bill. Because the CR would need 60 votes to pass, support from 11 Republican senators could advance the measure. In the past, GOP members have supported allowing reforms, so they may be open to giving these votes.
This week, Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) unveiled a Republican bill to allow reform, signaling the GOP’s interest in the topic, though she criticized Democrats for not including Republican input into the deal. manchin. Like Manchin’s proposal, Capito’s bill aims to speed up environmental assessments and would support the completion of the Mountain Valley pipeline.
The CR faces increased uncertainty in the House due to the number of Democrats who have pushed back on allowing reforms. If all 76 Democrats who expressed concern vote against the bill, leaders would have to bridge that gap with a significant number of GOP votes.
Grijalva has also unveiled House legislation aimed at improving the permitting process, called the Environmental law for everyone, requiring the government to consider additional health impacts in its assessments of various projects. It’s not yet clear whether some of the provisions in that bill could be incorporated into Manchin’s proposal in a compromise aimed at winning House Democrats.
House Democrats’ willingness to vote against a CR is also still up in the air. Previously, lawmakers such as Grijalva and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), chair of the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, said they don’t feel tied to the deal between Democratic leaders and Manchin because they were not involved in making it.
“The House never promised Joe Manchin that this would be part of the government’s funding. That’s absurd” Huffman previously told E&E News.
If the final bill addresses some of the concerns raised, lawmakers could potentially be more open to approval, especially as they try to avoid a government shutdown. At the moment, however, they remain focused on trying to get the permitting policy out of the CR and in a standalone vote.
“Give us a clean CR and let these filthy licensing regulations stand up to congressional scrutiny on their own,” Grijalva has said.