Manchin's federal permitting reform attempt fails for third time

Dec. 17—For the third time, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., could not rally enough support to pass a bill reforming the federal permitting process.

Manchin once again tried to include a bipartisan, comprehensive energy permitting reform amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that was passed Thursday evening, but the amendment failed on a 47-47 vote.

After the vote on the reform amendment, which was also supported by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., because it included direct reform to help move along the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), Manchin blasted Republicans.

"Once again, Mitch McConnell and Republican leadership have put their own political agenda above the needs of the American people," Manchin said in a statement. "Energy costs continue to rise as we move into the winter months and geopolitical uncertainty continues to test the strength of international bonds while Putin weaponizes energy. Despite these challenges, Mitch McConnell and his Republican caucus voted down a bill that would have completed the Mountain Valley Pipeline and quickly delivered natural gas to the market lowering home heating costs for families and making America more energy secure and independent. I believe anyone who voted against permitting reform has failed to act in the best interest of our country as they dismissed the opportunity to strengthen our nation's economic and energy security."

Manchin initially tried to include permitting reform in the continuing resolution in September to keep the federal government funded, based on a pledge from Democratic leadership for his support of the Inflation Reduction Act, but he withdrew it when he saw there was not enough support for it to pass.

He then tried to include it in the NDAA, but that failed twice.

"Permitting reform and the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline are essential to ensuring lasting American security and independence," he said after Thursday's vote. "Continued inaction will be felt by every American in every part of the country. If I made a mistake anywhere along the way it was that I trusted my colleagues to rise above partisan politics and do what is best for our country. Instead they chose to kick the can down the road when America cannot afford to wait. What crisis will have to occur to spur bipartisan action?"

Capito said during a virtual press briefing Thursday afternoon Manchin's reform amendment was "imperfect," but she supported it because of the MVP provision.

"I am very much in favor of permitting reform," she said, but was skeptical about it receiving enough support to pass because many Republicans were concerned about provisions related to transmission.

Some more progressive Democrats also did not support it.

A few hours after the interview, the reform amendment failed.

But both Capito and Manchin said they will press on for permitting reform and for the completion of the MVP, which is a 303-mile natural gas pipeline that is about 95 percent complete and runs from north central West Virginia to Chatham, Va.

However, protests and court cases related to federal permits for crossing streams as well as crossing federal land have delayed completion.

One of those crossings is in the Jefferson National Forest on Peters Mountain at the border of Monroe and Giles counties and that is also the site of a section of the Appalachian Trail which runs along the ridge line.

"We are never going to power this nation properly if we don't address this issue," Capito said of permitting reform which could streamline a process to take two years rather than the current seven to 10 years, and do so without eliminating any environmental reviews.

Those permitting processes cause delays for all energy projects, she said, as well as other infrastructure projects including roads and broadband.

But Capito wants a negotiated bipartisan approach "to make sure we can get all the votes (we need)."

She said work on getting the reform will continue next year "until we are successful."

Manchin is committed as well.

"As frustrating as the political games of Washington are, I will not give up," he said. "As I have said from my first day in office, I serve West Virginians and the American people with an independent voice not a political party. What is clearer now than ever is that party politics are paralyzing our nation's ability to unite around the solutions our country needs. The American people have had enough of this dysfunction and so have I. It's time for our elected leaders to put the American people first."

Maury Johnson, Monroe County landowner impacted by the MVP and co-chair of POWHR (Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights), released a statement after the Thursday vote on permitting reform.

"Today frontline communities in Appalachia and across the nation scored another victory against Manchin's 'Dirty Deal' permitting bill," Johnson said. "It is shameful that so many so-called climate champions and Senators who profess to stand with the citizens voted to throw their constituents and the environment under the bus. Those of us on the frontlines of this fight will never retreat. Our communities and our futures demand that we continue to prevail in this fight."

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com