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72 Democrats sign letter opposing Manchin permitting bill

Party leaders promised Manchin a vote on his bill in return for his support of the Democrats’ climate, health care and tax law

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, organized the letter.
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, organized the letter. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Seventy-two House Democrats said Friday they oppose including legislation to change federal permitting laws in a funding bill to keep the government running at the end of September, teeing up a clash with party leadership.

In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., the lawmakers said a proposal to overhaul permitting laws, rewrite the Clean Water Act and approve a gas pipeline should not be folded into the so-called continuing resolution, or CR, to fund the government in the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

To secure the vote of Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., on Democrats’ signature climate, health care and tax law, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed to hold a vote on a separate bill from the West Virginian this month.

“We remain deeply concerned that these serious and detrimental permitting provisions will significantly and disproportionately impact low-income communities, indigenous communities, and communities of color,” the House Democrats wrote. “We urge you to ensure that these provisions are kept out of a continuing resolution or any other must-pass legislation this year.”

Though the House Democrats stopped short of pledging to vote against legislation to fund the government, the Manchin proposal has drawn blowback from liberal members in both chambers. Party leaders would almost certainly have to get votes from Republicans to secure passage if those Democrats could not be counted on.

Manchin’s office released a summary of the bill in August, before the Senate voted to pass Democrats’ sweeping legislation.

West Virginia pipeline

The Manchin proposal, which Schumer said Wednesday was included in funding legislation to keep the government open, requires the completion of a gas pipeline that would run about 300 miles between West Virginia and southern Virginia.

The permitting bill, for which the text has not been made public, would also modify the Clean Water Act, establish statutes of limitations on environmental lawsuits and set timelines on how long environmental reviews for large industrial projects can take.

In a speech Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., criticized the proposal, saying it would greenlight fossil fuel projects at a time when climate scientists are recording perilous temperatures and rising greenhouse gas levels worldwide.

Manchin has said an overhaul of federal permitting laws is vital to construct new generations of low- and zero-emissions power sources, such as wind and solar, adding that the country relies on fossil fuel sources today.

Schumer said Wednesday he will “absolutely” try to attach the permitting proposal to the continuing resolution.

The text of Friday’s letter, which House Natural Resources Chairman  Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., organized, is the same as that in a letter the Arizonan sent with colleagues late last month.

While most of the signatures came from the party’s liberal bloc, Lindsay Gressard, a spokesperson for Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee, said 19 of the members who signed were not from the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

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