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Manchin’s Mountain Valley Pipeline Dream

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West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin says Democratic leaders have agreed to consider permitting reforms to complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline. That’s nice of them.

Alas, these mooted reforms even if enacted won’t help much since the Democratic Party’s green allies will continue their legal warfare. [bold, links added]

Mr. Manchin on Monday released a summary of environmental permitting changes that he has proposed in return for his vote for the Schumer-Manchin bill.

Count us skeptical that Democrats will back any substantive reforms that could ease fossil-fuel development, but even those on the table seem to be small beer.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) illustrates how the climate left uses litigation to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

The pipeline is a priority for Mr. Manchin because it would expand markets for West Virginia’s natural gas and enable more production.

But its costs have nearly doubled to $6.6 billion from $3.8 billion owing to litigation, and it is more than four years behind schedule.

While the pipeline by some estimates is 94% complete, it still needs to finish environmental restoration and segments that cross wetlands, streams, and national forests.

Mr. Manchin’s reforms would “require the relevant agencies to take all necessary actions to permit the construction and operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.”

But federal agencies in this case aren’t the problem. They’ve granted MVP the necessary permits.

The problem is that green groups keep filing legal challenges to environmental reviews, and the same Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals three-judge panel keeps tossing the permits over peccadillos.

Earlier this year, the judges vacated U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management authorizations to allow construction across 3.5 miles of federal land in the Jefferson National Forest.

They also vacated a biological opinion by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that building the pipeline wouldn’t have a significant impact on two endangered species.

The same three judges have reviewed a dozen petitions challenging pipeline permits over four years, and all but two have been vacated or stayed.

Mountain Valley’s concerns are purely with the judicial process and not with the substantial work done by the federal agencies,” pipeline developers wrote in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission explaining their petition for en banc court review this spring. They were denied.

Mr. Manchin wants Congress to give the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals jurisdiction over future litigation related to the pipeline, but that won’t help with existing lawsuits before the Fourth Circuit.

It also won’t help other pipelines, and the left-leaning D.C. Circuit may be as hostile as the Fourth Circuit judges.

What’s needed is a wholesale reform of environmental laws that fossil-fuel opponents have weaponized.

Perhaps they should be forced to pay the costs of their obstruction if project developers prevail, as two pipelines did at the Supreme Court in recent years only to be scrapped by investors amid more lawsuits.

The incentives have to change.

Will Democrats agree to legislation that stops their allies’ legal barrage against fossil fuels? Unless they do, Mr. Manchin’s reforms will do as much to save fossil fuels as the League of Nations did to stop World War II.

Read more at WSJ

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