A federal permitting deal between Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., is facing pushback from environmentalists and would be difficult to get through the House, lawmakers said.
As part of a deal to secure Manchin’s support for the climate, health care and tax bill President Joe Biden signed into law Tuesday afternoon, Schumer agreed to put a separate bill on federal permitting up for a vote. But threading that deal through Congress when both chambers return from August recess could be a slog, liberal and conservative House lawmakers said.
“I don't know about the Senate, but on the House side, some Democrats are not going to support it,” Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said in an interview.
Asked if the permitting deal could be attached to an appropriations bill needed to keep the federal government open past Sept. 30, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., demurred: "That’s clearly an issue, but we haven’t discussed it yet so I can’t tell you what the caucus feels about it."
Speeding up the permitting process for construction projects has some support from both parties, especially Republicans from districts with a heavy fossil energy industry, but guiding Manchin’s proposal through both chambers provides limited room for error, given the Senate’s 50-50 split and a narrow margin in the House.
Progressive House members said they want to scrutinize the deal before weighing in.
Natural Resources Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., said the permitting deal must be "studied and dissected" to ensure it wouldn't hurt the climate and undercut the climate policies Democrats included in the new law.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters Friday she had not seen details of the permitting proposal.
“We need to be vigilant about some of the things that apparently were agreed to,” Jayapal said. “We haven't agreed to those, we haven’t even seen all of them.”
The permitting legislation would set timelines for environmental reviews of projects, alter the Clean Water Act, carve out statutes of limitations for lawsuits and approve a roughly 300 mile gas pipeline running from West Virginia to Virginia, according to a summary from Manchin’s office.
That project, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, is more than 90 percent complete, but the company building it asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission to take until 2026 to finish it.
Environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed comments with FERC, criticizing the proposed finish date. The project already received a two-year extension in 2020, they said.
"Mountain Valley wants the commission to uncritically — and for the second time — throw it a life raft for its financially floundering and environmentally harmful boondoggle," the NRDC said.
Depending on the project, the environmental review process, established under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, can take years or even decades.
Republicans and some Democrats, such as Manchin and Cuellar, largely would like to winnow that timeline.
Walking off the House floor Friday, Cuellar, holding earbuds in his hand, said he was about to call the West Virginia senator.
“It takes a long time and this and that. So we are trying to find a balanced way that you can make sure you check for environmental concerns, et cetera, et cetera, but still not take a long time,” Cuellar said in an interview. “Because that's what delays a lot of these projects, the permitting.”
A vote on a bill to overhaul federal permitting could be tight, he said, adding the deal likely would need GOP support to get to Biden's desk.
“We lose more than four, then we're going to need Republicans,” Cuellar said, referencing the number of Democrats who could oppose the bill without derailing passage. “So it has to be a bipartisan bill, because otherwise there will not be enough Democrats, I think, or there'll be enough Democrats that kill it.”
Before the House voted along party lines, 220-207, on the budget reconciliation measure Friday, Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., said in an interview he was focused on that action.
“Right now, I'm going to celebrate with this passage,” Levin said. “And then we'll wait and see what comes next.”
Lindsey McPherson and James Downing contributed to this report.