On Wednesday night, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources released Long awaited text for allowing legislative reform. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.V.), represents a potential game-breaker agreement in July he cooperated with the leadership of the Democratic Party. That deal was locked in Manchin’s support for the Inflation Reduction Act — which was critical to its passage — but now the scrutiny has come, and passage of Manchin’s priorities is far from guaranteed.
New legislation called the “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022” brings a number of significant changes. First, it establishes time limits for environmental reviews for major energy and natural resource projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This includes a two-year cap for projects that require full environmental impact statements and a one-year cap for more limited environmental assessments. In both cases, the timelines are described as “targets,” so agencies can still have some flexibility about the limits.
Second, the bill gives the Secretary of Energy the power to declare transmission line projects “in the national interest,” thereby speeding up certain permitting processes. Much of the existing electric grid in the United States is decades old and counting obsolete. In addition, it was difficult to connect newer energy sources such as solar and wind farms to the existing grid. Potentially hundreds of millions of tonnes of CO2 reduction may be at stake if these grow challenges are not resolved.
Third, the bill requires federal agencies to approve permits for the Mountain Valley pipeline — Manchin’s top priority given its economic impact on his home state — and gives a boost to the interstate hydrogen pipeline by clarifying that FERC has jurisdiction in the area.
Finally, the bill establishes a stricter statute of limitations for filing legal challenges to the projects and creates a new White House priority list for energy projects designated as projects of national importance.
So far, environmentalists are mostly opposed to the legislation. Some go so far as to label the deal struck between Manchin and the party leadership over the summer as a “dirty business.” However, this opposition is somewhat confusing. First, according to at the R Street Institute, 65% of energy projects with federal permits in the pipeline are related to renewable energy sources. Only 19% are fossil fuel projects and 16% are electricity transmission projects (which, as noted, can advantage renewable resources). Similarly, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, although a fossil fuel project, may ultimately reduce carbon dioxide emissions because natural gas is Cleaner than coal.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will next have to decide whether to insert authorization language into the continuing resolution to keep the government funded. This legislation must pass by the end of the month or government agencies will run out of money. Schumer continues promise force a vote on combined legislation. However, Pelosi was more ambivalentand opposition among progressives seems to be gaining ground.
Already more than 70 members of the House of Representatives signed the letter requests the separation of these two legal regulations. IN least five senators signed a similar letter, and Democrat Tim Kaine recently made the claim can not support the Mountain Valley pipeline approval provision because it was not consulted and the pipeline runs through his state of Virginia.
As for those who want a reform authorization separate from the continuing resolution, Manchin does established “They won’t get it.” But that means Republican support will almost certainly be necessary, and that’s also up in the air at the moment.
Some Republicans have spoken out resistance against Manchin for compromising on the deflation bill, and now see no reason why they should support him, even though it’s a policy they broadly support. His West Virginia counterpart, Republican Sen. Shelly Capito, does released her own version of allowing reform legislation, and some in her party are rallying behind it.
Others criticize the legislation as not going far enough. For example, law professor James Coleman of Southern Methodist University he argued that there is not enough in the bill to thwart frivolous litigation, which is one of the main obstacles to the development of renewable energy. On the other hand, the time for environmental assessment could even add to litigation delays by leading to hasty analysis that is harder to defend in court. Stricter limits on lawsuits may be needed if Manchin’s bill is to have an impact.
Another danger for Democrats is that if the reform authorization fails, it will discourage future deals with Manchin on Democratic priorities. Manchin was a key roadblock in President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation. If he reneges on the deal with the Inflation Reduction Act, the potential for future deals could easily dissipate.
There is much to like about the new permitting reform legislation, including transmission line and hydrogen pipeline reforms. It’s unclear whether the bill goes far enough to curb excessive litigation. Whatever happens, this legislation would represent only a small step toward addressing the much larger problem of America’s growing culture of resistance to infrastructure, development, and construction.
Like Alec Stapp of the Institute for Progress recently established on Twitter: “I’m afraid policy makers will call this bill a ‘fixed permit’ and then we won’t get any more reform for years.”