Manchin gained pledges from Democrats to finish a controversial pipeline

WASHINGTON – Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia has secured promises from Democratic and White House leaders to complete a controversial 304-mile gas pipeline in his state, the office said. A major concession has been won as part of climate negotiations and the tax bill, his office said.

Mr Manchin, who hugged a surprise deal Last week, Democrats passed landmark climate legislation, making the relaxation of permits for energy projects a requirement of the deal. On Monday, his office released details of the side-deal he signed with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the President. Biden.

It will ensure that federal agencies “take all necessary actions to enable the construction and operation” of the gas pipeline, known as the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The project – which has been opposed for years by environmentalists, civil rights activists and many Democratic state legislators in Virginia – will transport natural gas from the Marcellus shale fields in West Virginia traverses nearly 1,000 streams and marshlands before ending in Virginia.

The pipeline was originally scheduled for completion in 2018, but environmental groups successfully challenged a series of federal permits for the project in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th District in Richmond, Va.

The court rejected permits issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, saying their analyzes of adverse effects on wildlife, sedimentation and erosion is flawed.

The delay is so long that the project’s certificate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is due to expire in October. The developers are seeking a second extension.

Jared Margolis, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups opposing the pipeline, acknowledged that Congress has the ability to bypass the courts and move the project forward. However, he said, “That won’t prevent a challenge” from the opponent.

The side agreement cut by Mr Manchin and the Democratic Party leaders would give the US Court of Appeals jurisdiction of the District of Columbia Circuit for all future legal challenges, taking the case out of the way. District 4, where environmentalists have succeeded.

Other parts of the deal will make it harder for rivals to undertake energy projects under the National Environmental Policy Act, a cornerstone environmental law, by setting a two-year deadline for challenges. It would also require the president to establish 25 “priority” projects on federal lands that must include fossil fuels and nuclear power. And it would amend part of the Clean Water Act in a way that would make it harder to block or delay pipeline projects.

Neither Mr Schumer nor Ms Pelosi responded to requests for comment. A White House spokesman also did not respond.

Some Democrats such as Raúl Grijalva, Chairman of the House of Commons Natural Resources Committee, said they would not support any measure to speed up pipelines or other energy projects.

But three people familiar with Mr Manchin’s deal said Democratic leaders are likely to insert the Mountain Valley Pipeline and allow provisions into a piece of legislation that must pass, such as the bill. funding the federal government, to maximize its chances.

Manchin on Monday said he believes the United States needs to reform the rules around permits to increase energy production.

“Why do we go around the world asking people to do what we want to do for ourselves?” Mr Manchin said. “How do we get a permitting process in place to meet the challenges we have today and the urgency we can’t do because of our authorization.”

Environmental activists denounced the Mountain Valley Pipeline and authorized the deal, and called on Democrats to reconsider that deal with Manchin.

“The impact of this side deal is crucial, especially as Congress is poised to accelerate the development of energy projects,” said Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice, an environmental group. She says she’s particularly concerned that limiting the time it takes to review and challenge projects could allow developers to “run rough on communities.”

Opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline called Mr Manchin’s deal dangerous for water quality and climate, noting that creating a new pipeline would ensure additional greenhouse gas emissions in the future. future. The pipeline is expected to deliver more than two billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

Notably, no environmental group called for lawmakers to vote against the tax and climate package, which now includes $369 billion over 10 years to pivot the nation away from fossil fuels. Energy experts have calculated that the overall package will reduce emissions by as much as 40% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade, even if permits are relaxed. and other measures that Mr. Manchin guarantee the development of fossil fuels.

Some call the permissive agreement a win for all energy development.

“This is a balanced approach for me,” said Neil Chatterjee, former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Easier application of permits for projects could also help add wind, solar and other renewables to the grid faster, Mr Chatterjee said.

Mr Schumer said he hoped to hold a vote on the broader climate and tax bill as early as this week.

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