Congress, Energy, Environment

Manchin, Capito not quite eye-to-eye on permitting reform, MVP legislation

MORGANTOWN – Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito both want to pass permitting reform legislation and get the Mountain Valley Pipeline completed, but aren’t quite on the same page yet on getting it done.

Both held separate virtual meetings with members of the West Virginia press on Thursday.

Manchin went first. He talked again about his support for the Inflation Reduction Act as a means to get more domestic energy on the market, enhance U.S. energy security and promote clean domestic energy over dirtier foreign energy now and in the future.

We’re hampered, he said, because our permitting process – for fossil fuels and renewables – takes two to three times longer than in any other nation in the developed world. Canada, for instance, takes just three years compared to 10-12 here.

Despite accusations to the contrary, he said, the permitting reform measures he hopes to include in the continuing resolution to keep government funded was not a side deal with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, it was part of the IRA agreement.

As previously reported, one aim of the permitting reform is to enable completion of the stalled Mountain Valley Pipeline, which was expected to be complete in 2018 and now will come in at twice the price — $6 billion instead of $3 billion. It’s just three to four months from completion, with just 20 of its 303 miles left to build. For West Virginia it will create 3,000 construction jobs and generate $35 million a year in tax revenue when it’s operating. And should the day come that hydrogen replaces natural gas, the line can be re-sleeved to handle the new product.

Manchin said it is the only source of energy that can come online in six months; it can meet current national demand plus supply excess liquefied natural gas for our allies now dependent on Russian fuel.

Manchin talked about Capito’s permitting and project review reform bill introduced on Monday. It’s called the Simplify Timelines and Assure Regulatory Transparency (START) Act and had 38 Republican cosponsors (with support of 46 altogether).

Manchin said all Republicans and 99% of the Democrats (excluding Bernie Sanders) want reform and should go along with the legislation he wants to include in the continuing resolution, which has to pass by the end of the month, before the next federal fiscal year starts.

“Why cant we pass it? If we don’t do it now within the next two weeks it will not get done,” he said. It needs 60 votes, so needs support from both parties – about 12-20 Republicans to cover any Democratic no votes.

He called Capito’s bill a messaging bill, indicating the minority’s support for the legislation in principle. He hopes that Capito can bring 15-20 Republicans to get beyond Red-Blue posturing and fussing over the IRA to sign onto the continuing resolution with 45 Democrats who are behind it.

Both of them know what the MVP will do for the nation and the state, he said, including $200 million per year in royalties for West Virginia mineral owners.

He stressed the urgency and the possibility of losing Democratic support. “If it doesn’t get done on this continuing resolution, it’s dead,” he said. But if it passes he thinks that will bring some momentum to the House, where progressive Democrats are also opposing the permitting measures.

“I’m wiling to shut down the government to get the best of the best,” he said. He knows that if it passes, court challenges remain. “All we’re asking for is just a good shot at this.”

Capito said her bill echoes the amendment she proposed during IRA deliberations, which was intended as a test measure and gained no Democratic support.

“I thought it was a good idea to make public once again the ideas we think have merit,” she said.

It has 12 sections and among many provisions prohibits the use and adoption of the Biden administration’s interim estimates for the social cost of greenhouse gases and any other estimates that may raise gasoline prices; and codifies key elements of the One Federal Decision framework for energy projects, including timely approvals for projects, permitting review schedules for projects that are no longer than two years, and limitations on the page length of environmental documents.

If Manchin wants her to bring along 15-20 Republicans, she said, they need to see his bill. “It’s a bit of frustration, now the onus is on me to provide support for something I had no hand in and still don’t know what it is.”

Manchin had previously told her he would have a text for her by Thursday, but as of the press meeting she had seen nothing. They had a cordial conversation about it on Wednesday, but hadn’t spoken since.

With nothing to see, she said, she doesn’t know how many will support the continuing resolution.

“We’ll just have to see what strategy Sen. Schumer has worked out,” she said. If it has the MVP in it, “I could look favorably on it.”

Asked about Manchin’s worry that permitting reform and the MVP could die if it doesn’t pass soon, she said she understands he needs to stress the urgency to fuel the momentum and get his party members on board. But if the measures don’t make it into the continuing resolution, “I wouldn’t throw the towel in.”

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