Manchin secured a pledge from Democrats to complete a disputed pipeline

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia secured a pledge from Democratic leaders and the White House to complete a much-contested 304-mile gas pipeline in his state, his office said, a major concession won as part of negotiations on a climate and tax bill.

Mr. Manchin, who struck a surprise deal last week between Democrats to pass landmark climate legislation, has made permit relaxation for energy projects a requirement of the deal. On Monday, his office released details of the side deal it reached with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic Majority Leader, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Biden.

It would ensure that federal agencies “take all necessary steps to permit the construction and operation” of the gas line, known as the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The project – which has been opposed for years by environmentalists, civil rights activists and many Democratic lawmakers in the state of Virginia – would transport natural gas from the Marcellus shale fields in West Virginia through nearly 1,000 streams and wetlands before ending in Virginia.

The pipeline was originally expected to be completed by 2018, but environmental groups successfully challenged a series of federal permits for the project in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth District in Richmond, Virginia.

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

The delays have been so significant that the project’s certification by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will expire in October. The developers are asking for an extension for the second time.

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

The side deal reached by Mr. Manchin and Democratic leaders would give the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit jurisdiction over all future legal challenges, removing the case from the Fourth District, where environmentalists had found success.

Other parts of the deal would make it harder for opponents to block 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 lands that must include fossil fuels and nuclear power. And it would revise a section of the Clean Water Act in a way that would make it harder to block or delay pipeline projects.

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

Some Democrats like Raúl Grijalva, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, have said they won’t support any measure that speeds up pipelines or other energy projects.

But three people familiar with Mr. Manchin’s deal said Democratic leaders are likely to insert the Mountain Valley Pipeline and authorize provisions in a must-have piece of legislation, such as the bill that funds the federal government. , in order to maximize their chances.

Mr Manchin said on Monday he believed the United States needed to reform permit rules to increase energy production.

“Why do we travel the world asking people to do what we want to do for ourselves?” said Mr. Manchin. “How can we get a permission process to meet the challenges we have today and the urgency that we can’t do because of our permission.”

Environmental activists denounced the Mountain Valley pipeline and licensing deal, and called on Democrats to rethink that deal with Mr. Manchin.

“The implications of this side deal are very significant, especially as Congress is poised to accelerate the development of energy projects,” said Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice, an environmental group. She said she was particularly concerned that limiting the time for reviewing and challenging projects would allow developers to “dismiss communities.”

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

Notably, none of the environmental groups called on lawmakers to vote against the climate and fiscal package, which currently includes $369 billion over ten years to pivot the nation away from fossil fuels. Energy experts have calculated that the global package will reduce emissions by up to 40% below 2005 levels by the end of this decade, even with the easing of permits and other measures that Mr Manchin has obtained for the development of fossil fuels.

Some have called the agreement the victory permit for all energy development.

“It 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 get permits for projects could also help to add wind, solar and other renewables to the power grid more quickly.

Schumer said he hopes to hold a vote on the broader climate and tax bill as soon as this week.

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