Big Manchin energy deal draws pushback from many Democrats

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats desperately needed the vote of Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia to get their signature legislative priority through the end. So they did what Washington does best: they made a deal.

To help garner his support for a bill hailed by advocacy groups as the biggest investment ever in the fight against climate change, Manchin said he had secured the commitment of President Joe Biden and leaders Democrats to pass a package of reforms authorizing energy projects through Congress by September 30. , the end of the current financial year.

Now the climate bill has the force of law and Manchin is ready to cash in. But major Democratic constituency groups are lining up against the proposal, calling it bad for the country and the climate. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and dozens of House members agree.

The crack could complicate the party’s efforts to keep the focus on this summer’s key legislative wins ahead of November’s midterm elections, which will determine which party controls the House and Senate. More immediately, the rift tests Schumer and Pelosi’s ability to keep enough Democrats in line to avoid a partial government shutdown at the end of the month.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.N.Y., is moving forward. He said this week that he would tie Manchin’s favorite measure to hard-and-fast legislation that would keep the federal government on hold until mid-December.

To convince skeptics, some Democrats point out that Manchin’s proposal to streamline environmental assessments of energy infrastructure projects would also be good for renewables.

A summary of the bill has been circulating among Senate Democrats in recent days and was obtained by The Associated Press. He says the package being developed is key to meeting climate goals by developing interstate transmission lines that will carry power from wind farms in the Midwest, for example, to major cities on the East Coast.

“Unfortunately, today these taller and longer lines across multiple jurisdictions are not being built,” the summary reads.

The summary indicates that about 20 major transmission projects are ready to move forward with federal support.

“Reforms to address issues of permitting, siting and cost allocation are critical to building these projects,” the document says.

In interviews, key Democratic senators underscored a similar message, calling the energy proposal complementary to the massive climate package passed last month.

“Right now, there’s just too much of a backlog in solar, wind and geothermal, so I want to expedite permits for renewables at every possible opportunity,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore .

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said the permitting effort is about ensuring basic environmental laws are followed more quickly, such as concurrent reviews by government agencies rather than one agency starting its work after the end of another.

Schatz said the “old environmental movement” was built around stopping inappropriate projects. But the “new environmental movement” is built around building an unprecedented amount of clean energy.

“To do that, we’re going to run into the same regulations that have stopped bad projects for a number of years,” Schatz said. “If we’re serious about meeting our clean energy goals, we’re going to have to build big planet-saving projects, which means federal regulations that slow them down need to be looked at very carefully.”

Legislation incorporating Manchin’s priorities has yet to be released, but among the goals he has set for himself is the establishment of a maximum time frame for reviews to be completed, including two years for large projects and one year for low impact projects. Manchin also wants a statute of limitations for filing legal challenges and language that would strengthen the federal government’s authority over interstate electric transmission projects determined by the Secretary of Energy to be in the national interest.

Finally, he wants to demand that all relevant agencies take the necessary steps to allow the construction and operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile (487-kilometer) pipeline, which is largely complete and would transport natural gas to through West Virginia and Virginia.

The proposed route crosses more than 1,100 watercourses and will disturb 6,951 acres (2,813 hectares) of land, including 4,168 acres (1,686.7 hectares) susceptible to severe water erosion. When fully completed, the pipeline will deliver up to 2 cubic feet (0.06 cubic meters) of natural gas per day to Mid-Atlantic and Southeast markets.

Legal battles delayed completion by nearly four years and doubled the cost of the pipeline, now estimated at $6.6 billion. Manchin also wants to give the federal appeals court in Washington jurisdiction over any other disputes over the project.

More than 70 House Democrats signed a letter on Friday calling on Pelosi to keep leave provisions out of the spending bill or any other legislation to pass this year.

“We remain deeply concerned that these serious and damaging leave provisions will have a significant and disproportionate impact on low-income communities, Indigenous communities and communities of color,” the lawmakers wrote.

Sanders directed his anger primarily at efforts to open the Mountain Valley pipeline. Speaking in the Senate, he cited the litany of climate disasters happening around the world – from record droughts in the West and China, to massive floods in Pakistan, to melting glaciers that he says could place the main American cities. underwater in the decades to come.

“At a time when climate change threatens the very existence of the planet, why would anyone talk about dramatically increasing carbon emissions and increasing fossil fuel production in the United States?” Sanders said. “What kind of message does this send to the people of our own country and to people who are suffering all over the world?

Schatz called the Mountain Valley Pipeline a “different animal” that he wouldn’t normally accept, but “we made a deal with Joe Manchin.” He said the deal, which led to the passage of the Cut Inflation Act last month, put the U.S. on a path to achieving the most carbon emissions reductions. the country’s history.

This bill uses changes in the tax code to move the United States toward cleaner sources of energy. It gives tax breaks to consumers who buy electric vehicles, solar panels and more energy-efficient appliances, and it also offers financial incentives to manufacturers of these products. Additionally, the bill spends billions of dollars on things like transitioning the US Postal Service fleet to electric vehicles.

Proponents predict the bill puts the United States on track to cut emissions 40% below 2005 levels by 2030.

“In the net, it’s not a tight call,” Schatz said. “…I don’t like this pipeline, but it’s not the biggest environmental problem on the planet. The main environmental problem is that we do not produce enough wind and solar energy. And now we are about to see wind and solar power take off like a rocket.