In order to get West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s vote for the Inflation Reduction Act [sic], Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had to promise to vote on “permitting” legislation that would streamline the approval of projects impacting the environment and energy—specifically, the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) so near and dear to the heart of Manchin.
The reforms in the permitting legislation will set maximum timelines for environmental reviews and complete a pipeline that runs through West Virginia. It will essentially prevent radical greens from derailing projects they hate by trying to “run out the clock” and make a project so expensive through the process of court challenges that developers drop it.
Now, Schumer is trying to attach a permitting amendment to the continuing resolution to keep the government operating after September 30. And Manchin desperately needs it. In this very red state of West Virginia, Manchin is seriously underwater in the polls, getting a 26.3 percent approval rating in a recent poll following his vote for the IRA.
Manchin isn’t up for re-election until 2024, at which point he’ll be 77 years old. He may not even run again. But Manchin sees the permitting legislation in terms of his legacy, whether he runs or not. And Schumer knows that his word is the coin of the realm — at least when he promises a fellow Democrat.
But there were grumblings when the IRA was passed in July about the permitting promise Schumer made to Manchin, and now Schumer’s plan to make it part of the government funding bill has the Greens frothing at the mouth. More than 650 radical organizations sent a letter to Schumer ordering him not to include the legislation in the funding bill.
“This fossil fuel wish list is a cruel and direct attack on environmental justice communities and the climate. This legislation would truncate and hollow-out the environmental review process, weaken Tribal consultations, and make it far harder for frontline communities to have their voices heard by gutting bedrock protections in the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act,” they wrote.
But Schumer is going to hold the Greens’ feet to the fire and force a vote on the permitting legislation, giving radicals the choice of defeating the legislation and risk shutting down the government or holding their noses and approving the measure.
Some Senate Democrats also said they couldn’t say whether they would support a short-term government funding bill that includes permitting reform until they review the details of the bill.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said he wants to know what the net impact on carbon emissions will be from passing both the Inflation Reduction Act and the permitting reform package.
“‘Are we helping to solve the climate problem?’ is the question,” Whitehouse said. “I don’t even know what the permitting reform is.”
Not one molecule of additional carbon will enter the atmosphere. It will just get there sooner than if environmental groups had been allowed to slow-walk the project, thus adding additional costs.
And what about the Republicans? If a couple of Democrats voted against it, some Republicans might find reforming the permitting process very attractive. After all, it’s an idea that’s been pushed by Republicans for years.
But not in this century, not on this planet.
“It seems pretty weak to me. I want to see how they have it written up but I hear it sounds pretty weak — ineffective,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), has said that he would oppose such a measure on principle, calling it part of a “political payback scheme.”
Indeed, the IRA would never have passed if Schumer had not been able to entice Manchin to vote for it. It seems a small price to sell out the country for a pipeline that still might not be built.