Joe Manchin took a chance.
He signed off on the partisan Inflation Reduction Act, and even appeared with President Joe Biden at the bill signing ceremony, knowing it would cause heartburn among Republicans and many of his constituents.
However, Manchin had an ace in the hole, or at least he thought he did — a side agreement with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Biden to support significant energy permitting legislation that included completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
The bill would be attached to funding legislation to prevent the government from shutting down at the end of the month. Manchin must have believed the package was a win-win, since many of the provisions of the permitting reform bill were things Republicans have long pushed for.
What could go wrong?
But the deal collapsed Tuesday. Manchin, realizing he did not have the necessary 60 votes, pulled the regulatory reform provision from the spending bill.
“He thought he was going to pass a bill and get it signed into law,” said Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas). “He miscalculated, is the nicest way I could put it.”
Manchin’s miscalculation was that enough Republicans would see the benefits of the regulatory reform — of which there are many — to overcome a few Democratic defections and reach the 60 vote threshold. But most of the Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, were more interested in seeing Manchin twist in the wind.
McConnell, still fuming over Manchin’s support of the Inflation Reduction Act, personally whipped against the bill. Additionally, Republicans see Manchin as vulnerable if he runs for reelection and they did not want to give him a legislative victory.
Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito said she would support the Manchin deal, but that commitment came only after the late arrival of the specific language of the bill and only after she had pushed her own bill on regulatory reform.
The failure is a political setback for Manchin, who has been wielding considerable power as the 50th Democratic vote. However, and more importantly, it is a public policy failure for West Virginia and the country.
The current permitting and regulatory process is prohibitively cumbersome and expensive.
Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1970 to require the federal government to consider the environmental effects of major federal projects. That is an important requirement to protect the environment.
However, as the Washington Examiner opined, “In practice, environmental activists have turned NEPA into a weapon to shut down any federally funded project by constantly suing and claiming that the environmental impact report produced by the agency involved was deficient for whatever reason.”
The long-delayed completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is a perfect example of how activists can use the law to force repeated delays of a project in hopes the developers will eventually give up.
The United States must have the ability to generate and transport traditional and alternative energy sources for domestic security and to supply Europe as it tries to wean itself off Russian energy. That requires the kind of regulatory reforms that were included in Manchin’s bill, as well as Capito’s legislation.
Here’s an idea. How about Manchin and Capito, with the approval of leaders of both parties, start work on a bipartisan bill that can actually pass?