Monitoring Government: U.S. Congress mulls permitting reform
By Brian Ford08 November 2022
On October 5, Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) issued a statement on OPEC’s decision to cut oil production by 2 million barrels a day, saying the action “should serve to further motivate my colleagues in Congress to come to the table to pass comprehensive, bipartisan permitting reform to lessen our dependence on these foreign nations.”
His talk on the need for permitting reform came just days after he withdrew his own proposed permitting reform language, mainly aimed at energy projects, from a continuing resolution to maintain funding for the federal government until December 16.
Strong opposition to the permitting reform language threatened to stall the funding resolution, hence Manchin’s withdrawal. For very different reasons, both progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives and Republicans in the Senate were against the reform measure, known as the “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022.”
Whether Congress can still “come to the table” on permitting reform during an election year remains to be seen. A potent mix of party politics and lobbying by some key stakeholders led to the sidelining of Manchin’s reforms, which were aimed at streamlining the federal permitting process to speed up the construction of various projects.
Many Senate Republicans (with the exception Senator Shelly Moore, also from West Virginia) opposed Manchin’s permitting bill after he had reached a surprise deal in August with the Senate Democratic leadership to provide a vital vote for the Inflation Reduction Act (opposed by the Republicans) in exchange for a promise to attach the permit reform measure to a government funding resolution.
But there were other reasons behind the opposition. Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent-Vermont) blasted the Manchin deal as a “giveaway to the fossil fuel industry,” while many House Democrats had sought for the House leadership to peal Manchin’s reforms from the government funding resolution, saying the reforms would fast-track projects that would sideline environmental justice for poor communities and others.
One provision that created headwinds from some utilities and states would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission more permitting authority for electricity transmission lines.
On top of expediting federal permitting processes, the Energy Independence and Security Act would require federal agencies to issue all approval and permits necessary for the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), a natural gas pipeline that would span more than 300 miles across West Virginia. The project has repeatedly run into hurdles posed by court challenges.
Still, it is possible Manchin could push to attach the measure to the next funding bill.
Among groups that support permitting reform are the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) and American Gas Association (AGA).
“From pipelines to powerlines and everything in between, we need a permitting process that aligns with our nation’s long-term needs for energy reliability, affordability and climate security,” said INGAA President and Chief Executive Officer Amy Andryszak in a statement issued on the day that Manchin withdrew his measure.
“We appreciate that the intent of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022 is to improve the permitting process for all forms of energy infrastructure and that it helps advance the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is critically needed energy infrastructure delayed by a broken permitting process. When built, MVP will deliver much-needed natural gas supplies to enhance energy security, reliability, and keep energy bills affordable.”
Andryszak added that the most recent version of the legislation has “helpful provisions,” including a much-needed process for coordinating multiagency review and decisions on proposed projects and estimated timeframes by which agencies are expected to complete reviews.
Manchin has said his proposed reforms could reduce federal energy agency reviews of energy-related projects down to three years versus five or more years at present. Other organizations such as the American Chemistry Council (ACC) also voiced support for permitting reform.
“We applaud current congressional efforts to designate and prioritize permitting for key energy infrastructure projects, whether they are fossil fuel, critical mineral, innovative lower-emission technologies, hydrogen, storage and many more,” the trade group said in a statement. “Through collaboration with the business of chemistry and others, these projects can help ensure access to robust energy supplies, support U.S. manufacturing competitiveness and create jobs.
“ACC commends Senators Manchin and Capito for their leadership and urges the Senate to move forward and pass meaningful permitting reform. Their efforts will also promote the build-out of new infrastructure that is necessary for a lower carbon economy. ACC will continue working with the administration and congressional leaders to enact and implement policies that will advance America’s economic and energy innovation goals and support industry’s efforts for a lower emissions future.”