West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin had been the roadblock to the Senate passing landmark climate legislation before suddenly reversing his position and helping to clinch a surprise agreement that has been approved by the Senate and is expected to pass in the House.
In return for his support of the bill, Manchin won some concessions for the energy industry, according to reports, reaching an agreement for another piece of legislation that would ensure the completion of the long-delayed Mountain Valley Pipeline and streamline the permitting process for pipeline and other energy infrastructure projects.
The transmission pipeline is being built from West Virginia into Virginia to feed 2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica basins in Appalachia to the southern Atlantic states. The Mountain Valley pipeline is partly owned by Southpointe-based Equitrans, in a joint venture with four other companies.
But the project, which is about 94 percent complete, has faced numerous delays due to legal and regulatory challenges from environmental groups, and the cost has risen from about $3 billion to $6.6 billion while construction has taken years longer than anticipated. The developer had hoped to complete the pipeline and put it into service by the end of 2023. The project recently had to seek a second extension of its certification from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission because of the delays.
A summary of the energy permitting provisions of the so-called “side deal” provided by Manchin’s office would require the relevant agencies to take all necessary actions to permit the construction and operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and give the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit jurisdiction over any further litigation involving the project. Environmental groups have successfully challenged permits issued by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife Service over the pipeline’s effects on wildlife and streams in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The agreement also calls for a two-year time limit for challenges to the National Environmental Policy Act, streamlining permitting and legal challenges, and having the president designate 25 high-priority energy infrastructure projects of strategic national importance and prioritizing permitting for those projects.
The projects will include critical minerals, nuclear, hydrogen, fossil fuels, electric transmission, renewables, and carbon capture, sequestration, storage, and removal. They will be selected based on criteria that include: reducing consumer energy costs, improving energy reliability, decarbonization potential, and promoting energy trade with our allies.
While the energy permitting provisions will require separate legislation, the climate and tax bill is already on the fast track to passage. The Inflation Reduction Act would set provide $369 billion for climate and energy proposals, the most ambitious climate action ever taken by Congress, and raise an estimated $451 billion in new tax revenue over a decade, while cutting federal spending on prescription drugs by $288 billion, according to a summary.