A proposed overhaul of the federal energy infrastructure permitting process introduced by Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., was rejected Thursday by the Senate as an amendment to the fiscal 2023 defense authorization.
Despite support from the White House and some in the renewable energy industry, multiple attempts to pass the legislation as part of a larger bill fell short. A procedural vote to amend the bill with Manchin’s proposal was 47-47, short of the 60 votes needed.
In a deal that secured Manchin’s support for the climate, tax and health care law signed by President Joe Biden in August, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer agreed to hold a vote on legislation that would enact the senator’s long-sought changes to the permitting process.
In a floor speech prior to the vote, Manchin said his permitting overhaul was necessary to realize the benefits of both this year’s law and the bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year.
“We’re on the verge of doing something unbelievable, but let me tell you most of it will be for naught,” Manchin said.
He also expressed skepticism that Congress would be able to move any permitting overhaul forward in the new year once Republicans gain control of the House and Democrats strengthen their majority in the Senate.
Initially, Schumer and Manchin planned to attach his proposal to a continuing resolution passed in September that was needed to fund the government into the new fiscal year. That move was greeted with immediate opposition over both the proposed changes to the permitting process and the manner in which it was being considered, having skipped the committee hearing and markup process. It was removed from the bill shortly before a procedural vote.
Attempts to insert it into the defense authorization also were unsuccessful, and it was left out of a version of the bill released by negotiators on Dec. 6. Manchin then pushed to vote on it as an amendment, a procedural move that was destined to fall short after many of the same groups reiterated their opposition despite some changes to the proposal.
The proposal called for limits on environmental reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act and a statute of limitation for judicial review, among other provisions. It also would require that all remaining permits be issued for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile long natural gas pipeline between West Virginia and Virginia that has faced repeated delays and to which Manchin has repeatedly pointed as a casualty of the current process.
House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., led a group of over 77 Democratic lawmakers opposing the overhaul’s inclusion in any “must pass” legislation. Grijalva said that doing so would force members to choose between advancing critical bills and protecting communities that already face greater environmental pollution. A letter led by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said that legislation with such “broad implications” should be considered through regular order.
Republicans also lodged objections, with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell referring to Manchin’s proposal as reform “in name only.” While Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., said he would work with Manchin next Congress on a bill addressing the federal permitting system, he said the proposal they considered would not address the volume of litigation that can delay permits for many energy projects.
But Manchin said Republicans were letting the “perfect be the enemy of the good” by not supporting his amendment even though many had previously called for a permitting overhaul, including by signing on to a bill introduced by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., that has some overlap with his proposal.
Many of the nation’s largest environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the League of Conservation Voters, ardently opposed Manchin’s legislation and its inclusion in the defense bill.
The groups released their own proposal intended to address challenges related to transmission planning, siting and cost allocation as overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
They also encouraged Congress to pass a measure introduced by Grijalva and the late Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-Va., that would strengthen requirements to consult with environmental justice communities during the process of obtaining NEPA approval.