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 also has insisted on streamlining the review and permit process for energy projects of all forms, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia, to earn his support of the Inflation Reduction Act, which fellow Senate Democrats hope to pass along party lines as early 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 because of environmental litigation.
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 streamlining the government’s overall review and permit process is vital to the nation’s energy security and that the bill must be passed no later than Sept. 30.
Environmentalists and some Democrats said that cutting bureaucratic red tape under the National Environmental Policy Act could open the floodgates for 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 District of Columbia Circuit would have jurisdiction over any further litigation. That requirement would move jurisdiction from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has ruled against the project.
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 for energy projects nationwide.
The permitting wins for Mr. Manchin show the immense power he wields in a 50-50 split Senate. He also has used that influence to secure policies in favor of the oil and natural gas industry in the broader Inflation Reduction Act. Nearly $370 billion is set aside for climate and energy programs that Democrats say would reduce emissions by 40% from 2005 levels by 2030.
As part of Mr. Manchin’s agreement to support the Inflation Reduction Act:
• Wind and solar projects are contingent on Interior Department offers of at least 2 million acres per year for onshore oil and gas lease sales.
• Offshore wind is contingent on at least 60 million acres in federal waters each year for oil and gas development.
• A 1.7 million acre lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico that was canceled earlier this year will be reinstated.
• Tax credits will be given to businesses that engage in carbon capture, the process of capturing and storing harmful greenhouse gas emissions underground.
• $500 million will be spent to expand biofuel infrastructure.
• Time limits will be set for permitting reviews, including two years for NEPA reviews for major projects and one year for lower-impact projects.
• A statute of limitations will be set for court challenges to new energy projects.
• The federal government’s permitting authority will be enhanced 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 — for both clean energy and fossil fuels — and prioritize permitting for these projects.
• Section 401 of the Clean Water Act will be modified, 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.