Politicians backing an unfinished West Virginia gas pipeline at the center of debate in Congress have received thousands of dollars in contributions from the companies behind the project, hold stock in those companies or both.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., introduced legislation on Sept. 12 to change federal permitting law by, among other steps, limiting how long environmental reviews can take. It would also approve the roughly 300-mile-long Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would run from West Virginia to Virginia.
It wasn’t the first time Capito had nudged along the project, which would bisect her home state from north to south, citing it as the sort of project America’s permitting laws make difficult to build.
“Endless regulatory delay and environmental lawsuits, including on permits already issued, delay more than pipelines and kill more than jobs,” Capito said during a March appearance on the Senate floor.
“We have one in West Virginia, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, that is working hard to complete the last 5 percent of the pipeline.”
Months later, that project is a point of contention in ongoing negotiations about funding the government, and Capito, along with other West Virginia lawmakers and other senators, remains a steady supporter of the project.
And like some federal lawmakers backing the project, Capito has financial and campaign donation ties to the companies behind it.
Both she and her state's senior senator, Democrat Joe Manchin III, have proposals to overhaul permitting law, and while Manchin’s is not public — only a summary has been released — each bill would approve the pipeline.
To secure Manchin’s vote on the Democrats’ climate, health care and tax bill, now signed into law, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed to put a permitting proposal from the West Virginian to a vote in September.
Before President Joe Biden signed that bill, Capito tried to attach an amendment on permitting, which would include approval of the pipeline, to the underlying legislation. But in a 50-49 vote, that attempt fell short of the required 60 votes.
“Let's tackle inflation, permitting and energy supply challenges right here tonight,” Capito said at the time. “Let's finish the Mountain Valley Pipeline now.”
The top-ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Capito, according to financial disclosure records, owns between $2,002 and $30,000 of stock in NextEra Energy Inc., a utility and one of the companies behind the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Her husband, Charles Capito, owns between $15,001 and $50,000 in NextEra stock, according to the senator’s latest annual disclosure statement. Congressional rules allow the disclosure of financial assets in ranges, making it difficult to pinpoint a given member’s assets. Another disclosure shows Charles sold between $1,001 and $15,000 in stock on May 26.
The gas pipeline is a joint venture between five companies: NextEra, Equitrans Midstream Corp., AltaGas Ltd., RGC Resources Inc., and Consolidated Edison, or ConEd, the New York City-headquartered power company. Upon completion of the project, Equitrans is slated to operate the pipeline.
Since construction began on the project in 2018, Capito has received $10,000 in campaign donations from Equitrans’ political action committee, or PAC.
The Equitrans PAC was first registered on Oct. 1, 2018, federal records show.
Manchin has received $10,000 from the same PAC, which also gave $7,500 to Sen. John Barrasso’s campaign. He is the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, tasked with regulating pipelines.
Capito and her colleagues from the Mountain State have raised the pipeline’s permitting woes several times this year. Along with Manchin and Reps. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., and Carol Miller, R-W.Va., Capito signed a letter in July to FERC, requesting the consortium of companies building the project be given a four-year extension, until 2026, to complete it.
“Your approval of this extension request will also provide certainty to communities and landowners along the pipeline’s path that FERC intends for the MVP to be completed,” the letter said. “West Virginians have told us that they want to see the project completed, their properties restored, and the benefits of the project accrue for their communities.” FERC granted that request last month.
Under a 2012 law known as the Stock Act, members and their spouses are required to disclose stock transactions and are prohibited from trading stock on private information they gained through their jobs as lawmakers.
The standard penalty for not disclosing transactions in the 45-day period after the date of the transaction, as required, is $200.
In a statement to CQ Roll Call, Kelley Moore, a spokeswoman for Capito, said: “Senator Capito voted for the STOCK Act, and both she and her husband, Charlie, continue to comply with its disclosure provisions.”
Since the 2017-18 campaign cycle, NextEra’s PAC has given $15,500 to political committees of Manchin’s, $10,000 to Schumer’s campaign, $6,000 to McKinley’s, $3,500 to Miller’s and $2,500 to Capito’s.
From a ConEd PAC, Schumer has received $2,500 in campaign contributions over the same period.
NextEra, a roughly $169 billion company, is one of the biggest electric utilities in the country, with interests nationwide.
Representatives of Schumer and Manchin did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
Mike Hamilton, chief of staff to McKinley, said the contributions did not influence the congressman’s advocacy for the pipeline.
“Congressman McKinley supports completion of the MVP pipeline because it is good for West Virginia and good for America,” Hamilton said. “It supports thousands of jobs and generates millions in tax revenue along the route. Ensuring West Virginia natural gas can get to market is good for the economy, good for American energy security, and frankly good for the environment.”
A second-term congresswoman, Miller broached the project during a Ways and Means Committee hearing in June, when she criticized the Biden administration’s energy policies and accused it of delaying the “Mountain Valley Pipeline in my own state in endless legal challenges.”
Miller's spouse, Matt Miller, owns between $50,001 and $100,000 in NextEra stock, records show. Asked about financial and campaign ties between Miller and the project, Tatum Wallace, a spokesperson for the congresswoman, said the project should be finished quickly to lower energy costs and boost the local economy. “When it comes to Congresswoman Miller's votes and priorities in Congress, the only things she considers are her West Virginia values and the well-being of her constituents, state and country,” Wallace said.
While Capito’s legislation has 46 co-sponsors, all Republicans, others in the Senate have also come out in favor of updating permitting rules, though largely for different reasons.
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said Wednesday he backed a permitting overhaul to augur a massive buildout of emissions-free technology and race down the ticking clock of the climate crisis.
“We are now undertaking the largest and most far-reaching energy transition in human history,” King said. “The transition to fossil fuels took about 150 years, going back to around 1800.”
King said: “We’re talking about transitioning away from fossil fuels to renewables over 15 years. Not 150, but 15. We have to grasp that this is an enormous undertaking, and it’s going to involve change.”
His wife, Mary Herman, owns between $15,001 and $50,000 in NextEra stock, records show.
“Senator King and his wife keep their own financial counsel and do not consult each other on investments,” a spokesperson for the senator, Matthew Felling, said.
Efforts to strengthen rules to guard against insider trading on Capitol Hill, whether by members, spouses or staffers, such as proposals for blind trusts and rules against trading individual stocks, have fizzled this Congress.