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Beating Manchin to punch, Capito unveils permitting bill

Bill would approve West Virginia pipeline, let states develop oil and gas projects on federal land within their borders

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III and Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito are both pushing legislation that would approve a natural gas pipeline for their state, West Virginia.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III and Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito are both pushing legislation that would approve a natural gas pipeline for their state, West Virginia. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

States would be free to develop energy resources on federal lands within their borders, a series of Trump-era regulations would be set into law and a West Virginia pipeline would be approved under a Republican permitting bill that adds a wrinkle to Democrats’ internal squabble over the same issues.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., the top GOP member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, released the bill Monday, inching out her home-state peer Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., who is expected to unveil a separate permitting proposal any day.

Capito said her bill, which has 38 other Republican co-sponsors, would “provide regulatory certainty to states, expedite permitting and review processes, codify substantive environmental regulatory reforms, and expedite permitting of the critically important Mountain Valley Pipeline.”

Though the text is not yet public, Manchin’s bill, which has drawn significant blowback from House Democrats, would also approve the pipeline, now under construction, to carry natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia.

With a potential government shutdown looming at the end of the month, Manchin’s permitting proposal has emerged as a potential stumbling block if it is included in any end-of-fiscal-year spending bills or other must-pass legislation.

As of Monday afternoon, 77 House Democrats had expressed their opposition to Manchin’s permitting proposal, likely foreclosing passage of the West Virginian’s proposal absent significant support from Republican members.

But Manchin did not appear concerned.

“The legislation will come from Schumer,” Manchin said. “We pretty much have signed off on everything.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said last week the Manchin proposal was included in funding to keep the government running. The two senators reached a deal that Schumer would arrange for a vote on Manchin’s proposal in return for his support of the new climate law.

“As my colleagues know, negotiations continue on a CR to extend funding through about mid-December, which hopefully will give appropriators enough time to draft an omnibus funding package,” Schumer said Monday, using the shorthand for a continuing resolution to keep the government running.

“No one wants to see a shutdown, and I know that includes my Republican colleagues,” he said. “But in order to avoid a shutdown, Senate Republicans must continue working with us to resolve the issues that remain.”

Second try

Capito tried to attach a permitting-themed amendment to the climate, health and tax budget reconciliation legislation that became law, but that effort fell short in a 50-49 vote, short of the 60 votes needed for adoption.

Her legislation would elevate to law environmental rules the Trump administration proposed to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, which requires federal agencies to analyze the environmental effects of large construction projects.

It would also codify into law the Trump administration’s definition under the Clean Water Act of  “waters of the United States”— a hotly disputed term to describe the extent of federal jurisdiction over bodies of water. That definition is narrower than the one the Obama administration reached and gives the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers less oversight of water pollution.

Separately, Capito’s bill would give states “sole authority” to write or enforce regulations on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on federal land within their boundaries, and it would allow states the right to “develop energy resources” on federal land within their boundaries, her office said.

The bill would also approve the West Virginia gas line, Mountain Valley Pipeline, within three weeks of it becoming law.

Laura Weiss contributed to this report.

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