Written by Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin on Wednesday passed a bill to allow energy to speed up approvals for natural gas pipelines and power transmission for renewable energy, legislation that has been criticized by some of his Democratic colleagues and will likely need to be amended in order to gain adequate support.
The 91-page bill is expected to be accompanied by a temporary government funding measure that must be approved by Congress before Oct. 1 to prevent a federal shutdown.
The legislation would require the federal government to issue permits to Equitrans Midstream Corp.’s long-delayed $6.6 billion worth of the Mountain Valley pipeline to transport natural gas between West Virginia, Mansion, and Virginia.
The broader funding bill needs House and Senate approval and President Joe Biden to sign it into law. Manchin employees told reporters that he believed the funding bill would get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate with the authorization procedure attached.
The permit action from Manchin, a centrist Democrat and an important 50-50 Senate voter, requires Biden to designate 25 energy projects of strategic national importance for rapid federal review.
The US power grid needs expansion and repairs because some of its major transmission lines are 50 years old. Improving transmission lines would help renewable projects such as wind and solar farms in rural areas get clean energy for cities.
The bill also sets a two-year target for environmental reviews of energy projects to be completed by more than one federal agency.
Progressive lawmakers and environmental groups were concerned that it would speed up fossil fuel projects by undermining US environmental laws. In the House of Representatives, 77 Democrats this month asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a letter to keep the side deal out of the funding bill.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva, a Democrat who led that message, said the bill looked like a draft that had been leaked months ago.
“The fact that the brainchild of fossil fuels is being forcibly fed into imperative government funding is indicative of their unpopularity,” Grijalva said in a statement. “My colleagues and I do not want this.”
Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said after the bill was passed that he could not support his “very unusual rulings” regarding the Mountain Valley pipeline.
Kane said they are “eliminating any judicial review” of key parts of the pipeline approval process and stripping jurisdiction from the US Court of Appeals in the cases involved. Keane said he was not involved in talks about the measure, even though the 100 miles (160 kilometres) of the pipeline would run through his state.
While the bill would speed up the process of a basic US green law called the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires major projects to be reviewed, it “doesn’t modify core laws,” a Mansion employee told reporters.
Getting at least 10 Republican senators to support the measure before Oct. 1 could be complicated after Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a Mansion Republican, passed her own bill this month more favorable to fossil fuels.
Some Republicans were also concerned that Manchin voted for Biden’s inflation-reducing bill, which included $369 billion for climate and energy security.
“If they’re willing to say they’re going to shutdown the government because of a personal attack on me, or by not looking at the best of the country, that’s what makes people sick of politics,” Manchin said on Tuesday. About the unwillingness of some Republicans to support permits.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Richard Cowan; Editing by David Gregorio and Diane Kraft and Lincoln Fest)