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Here Are Manchin’s Demands On Permitting, Pipelines, And Lawsuits

pipeline building

The legislative agreement between Sen. Joe Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer calls for Congress to take up “comprehensive” permitting reform in a bill separate from their reconciliation deal, and the provisions currently under consideration could well achieve that depending on how they’re ultimately drawn up. [bold, links added]

Manchin’s office put out a broad list of permitting reform items on Monday covering “what has been agreed to,” a spokesperson confirmed.

It would address everything from litigation against projects to permitting review times and FERC jurisdiction over interstate hydrogen infrastructure.

Here’s a look at three notable provisions:

Projects Of National Interest: Manchin’s list proposes to direct the president to designate a list of at least 25 high-priority infrastructure projects deemed to be of “strategic national importance” for which permitting should be prioritized.

This list would have to include both green and legacy fossil fuel projects that meet various criteria, including whether they would reduce consumer energy costs or improve energy reliability.

In general, it sounds a lot like the European Union’s “projects of common interest” designation, which opens up projects to accelerated permitting and has been extended to natural gas projects, much to the chagrin of environmental groups.

The administration could utilize such a designation to speed up reviews and permitting for offshore wind, which Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has singled out for being too lengthy.

With its priority of getting liquefied natural gas to Europe, it could also give extra oomph to pipelines that would transport gas to liquefaction terminals.

Litigation: Also on the table are new requirements for courts, including random assignment of judges to hear appeals, as well as a potential statute of limitations for litigation challenging permits.

Xan Fishman, director of energy policy and carbon management at the Bipartisan Policy Center, emphasized that the statute of limitations provision is vague but said the motivation is to insulate project developers from uncertainties.

“The idea is that once you get your record of decision and you want to start building, you don’t risk a lawsuit that you weren’t predicting years down the line to stop you, you know after you’re three quarters into building your thing,” Fishman told Jeremy.

Mountain Valley Pipeline: Buried at the bottom of the list is the clearest overture to Manchin, an item proposing to require agencies overseeing permitting for the West Virginia-to-Virginia natural gas pipeline to finish the job.

It also proposed giving the “DC Circuit jurisdiction over any further litigation,” ostensibly to claw jurisdiction away from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the project’s challengers have achieved vacaturs for multiple of the pipeline’s federal permits since 2019.

Most recently, the Fourth Circuit vacated the Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion, required under the Endangered Species Act, for the project, finding that it was inadequate.

The slog has angered Manchin, and others who support more fossil energy exports have treated the project as a totem of an inhibitive permitting process.

Paul Bledsoe, a strategic adviser with the Progressive Policy Institute and former Senate Finance Committee staff member who has authored multiple papers advocating more U.S. liquefied natural gas exports, said that without permitting reform, the U.S. can’t address climate change or cut consumer energy costs.

The U.S. needs more electric transmission, Bledsoe told Jeremy, and “we need new natural gas pipelines to rapidly phase out coal, and to keep domestic prices low while we increase exports to help our European allies.”

The battle squaring up: Not all are on board. Some Democrats are worried that adding timelines or other strictures to environmental reviews amounts to corner-cutting.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said comprehensive reform is “another euphemism” for cutting down the National Environmental Policy Act.

Meanwhile, Abigail Dillen, head of environmental law outfit Earthjustice, pledged the group will fight the reform effort, which she called an “attempt to weaken bedrock environmental review laws.”

Read more at Examiner

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