Fossil fuel side deal for U.S. climate bill slammed by green groups

FILE PHOTO: Workers construct the Mountain Valley Pipeline near Elliston
·2 min read

By Nichola Groom

(Reuters) - A deal among U.S. Senate Democrats that would provide faster approvals for fossil fuel projects in exchange for party-line support for a spending bill focused on tackling climate change drew harsh criticism from environmental groups on Tuesday.

U.S President Joe Biden and Senate Democratic leaders have agreed to measures speeding fossil fuel permitting, including for the controversial Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline in Appalachia, to secure West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin's backing for a $430 billion spending bill, according to Manchin's office and a summary of the agreement seen by Reuters.

The bill would increase corporate taxes and be the biggest ever U.S. government investment in combating global warming.

Following the news, which was first reported late on Monday, energy company Equitrans Midstream Corp said it would complete the natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia in the second half of 2023.

The side deal would also deliver a range of permitting reforms for large infrastructure projects, according to the one-page summary. Those reforms include limiting the length of environmental reviews, centralizing the power to approve projects to just one government agency, identifying priority energy projects to be fast-tracked, and reining in the length of court challenges.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

"The price to be paid for Manchin's vote looks more and more like an oil and gas wish list," Jean Su, energy justice program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an emailed statement. "This backroom deal threatens communities and the environment, while shunting aside state and tribal input."

Senate Republicans expressed skepticism about the agreement, demanding to see more details.

"With no legislative text, Dems can walk away from the table once they get their partisan bill passed," Senator Shelley Moore Capito said in a tweet.

An oil and gas industry source, who did not want to comment publicly without seeing formal legislative language, said the sector applauded efforts to streamline permitting.

"It's very important that Senator Manchin, as part of the agreement, introduce the legislation and urge Congress to take it up," the source said. "Congress needs to act on it."

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Marguerita Choy)