Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia has secured a deal for a long-sought $6.6 billion natural gas pipeline in his home state in exchange for his support of a broader tax and climate spending bill.
Mr. Manchin insisted on streamlining the review and permit process for all energy projects or the Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia for his support of the Inflation Reduction Act, which fellow Senate Democrats hope to pass along party lines as soon as this week.
The Mountain Valley pipeline, which would deliver natural gas to mid-Atlantic and Southeastern states, is near completion but has been stalled for years due to litigation by environmentalists.
Greenlighting the project would mark a concession by the Biden administration, which has sought to focus on advancing the president’s clean energy and climate goals.
Mr. Manchin has argued that streamling the review and permit process is vital to the nation’s energy security and must be passed by no later than Sept. 30.
But environmentalists and some Democrats said that cutting bureaucratic red tape under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) could open the floodgates for new fossil fuel production.
“Chipping away at NEPA prioritizes polluting industries and fossil fuel interests over people who are dealing with prolonged exposure to toxic pollution,” Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen said. “No deal should do further harm to NEPA or force the president to endorse new fossil fuels projects in the midst of our climate emergency.”
According to a one-page summary of the permitting deal provided by Mr. Manchin’s office, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit would have jurisdiction over any further litigation.
In addition to the natural gas pipeline, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and the Biden administration have agreed to a slew of Mr. Manchin’s desired changes to the permit process, including:
• Set maximum timelines for permitting reviews, including two years for NEPA reviews for major projects and one year for lower-impact projects.
• Set a statute of limitations for court challenges.
• Enhance the federal government permitting authority for interstate electricity that is in the national interest, as determined by the secretary of Energy.
• The president will designate at least 25 high-priority energy infrastructure projects (both clean energy and fossil fuels) and prioritize permitting for these projects.
• Modify section 401 of the Clean Water Act, including the requirement to make one of four final rulings within one year of certification requests for energy projects: grant, grant with conditions, deny, or waive certification.