When Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Joe Manchin announced a surprise deal in July to pass a bill on climate, deficit reduction and health care policy, it came with a caveat. Democratic leadership agreed to a vote in September on one of the conservative West Virginia Democrat’s longstanding pursuits: a proposal that allows energy to expedite the approval of new projects. If you were excited to see Congress finally move legislation in the summer, get ready for the stale Senate fall, as the drama over this deal could be disrupted in the final few days before lawmakers head home to campaign. .
Earlier this week, Manchin introduced legislation to streamline environmental assessments, including, controversially, the permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Approval for the natural gas pipeline, which would run through Manchin’s home state, West Virginia, was explicitly built into Manchin’s legislation.
Democratic leadership in Congress and the White House quickly united behind Manchin’s proposal, which came after his fellow West Virginia senator, Republican Shelley Moore Capito, introduced her own measure. “Today, far too many energy projects are delayed, preventing us from generating and delivering critical, cost-effective clean energy to families and businesses across America,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “This is an important step forward in further unlocking the potential of these projects and the high-paying jobs they support.”
Capito has also lent its support to Manchin’s legislation, thanks to the inclusion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline authorization. Schumer has repeatedly urged that Manchin’s legislation be annexed to the Continuing Resolution, or CR, to keep the government funded. The Senate will vote early next week to propose a bill for the CR, with text to be included at an amorphous point in the near future. Without action from Congress, government funding will expire at the end of the month. Congress is widely expected to pass a CR to keep the government funded until mid-December. to govern!
But things won’t be smooth sailing for a CR that has associated licensing reform as it faces skepticism and even some outright hostility from members on both sides of the aisle. While no one wants a government shutdown, a CR would need 60 votes to go ahead – and at this point it’s unclear whether some lawmakers will be able to abstain due to opposition to Manchin’s legislation.
Republicans prefer Capito’s bill over Manchin’s. Plus, many of them are still steaming after Manchin made the deal with Schumer to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, and would rather not give the West Virginia Democrat another win. “I hear the Republican leadership is upset and they’re saying, ‘We’re not going to give Joe Manchin a win,'” Manchin said at a news conference on Tuesday. “If they’re willing to say we’re going to shut down the government because of a personal attack on me or because they don’t really care about the well-being of the country, that’s what makes people sick of politics. It makes me sick.”
Meanwhile, several progressives have also expressed frustration with the measure, arguing that it should be separated from the CR. Eight Democratic senators sent a letter to Schumer on Thursday arguing that “such important issues should be explored through detailed committee deliberations and a vigorous floor debate, apart from the urgent need to ensure the government remains open.” Dozens of House progressives have warned they won’t be allowed to vote for a CR to which Manchin’s proposal is attached, meaning the Democratic leadership would have to rely on Republican votes to approve it in the House — far from a sure prospect.
“The fact that this fossil fuel brainchild is being forced to get government funding speaks to its unpopularity. My colleagues and I don’t want this. The communities already hardest hit by the mess of the fossil fuel industry certainly don’t want or deserve it. Even Republicans don’t want this,” Representative Raúl Grijalva, the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee that has led the House opposition to Manchin’s proposal, said in a scathing statement Tuesday. “I urge the leadership to listen to the many Members who are asking to keep this out of an ongoing resolution and avoid a deadlock that this country does not need.”
Senator Bernie Sanders is arguably the most outspoken senator in his disdain for the authorized reform measure, sending a letter to colleagues Friday urging them to “oppose the big oil-side deal”. “It should be the subject of hearings that get input from climate scientists, environmentalists and the communities affected by the legislation. It should not be attached to mandatory legislation without public scrutiny,” Sanders wrote.
“I’ve never seen stranger bedfellows than Bernie Sanders and the far-liberal left side with the Republican leadership in the caucus,” Manchin grumbled during his Tuesday press conference.
But it’s not just progressives who voice their concerns about the bill. Senator Tim Kaine, in particular, outlined his opposition to the language empowering the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would also pass through his state of Virginia. Kaine told me on Thursday that he could support “86 pages of the 91-page bill” but could not vote for a bill that would green-light the pipeline “without administrative or judicial review.”
“Chuck made the deal without talking to me,” Kaine said. “I was hoping that before the bill was finalized, if I told them my concerns, the final product would allay my concerns. It doesn’t.” Kaine told me he believed there could be some sort of separate bipartisan bill about allowing reforms, but also didn’t go so far as to say he wouldn’t vote for a CR that included Manchin’s bill. Don’t threaten anything, I’m just telling people that I have a big objection to it,” he said.
For his part, Senator Mark Warner, Kaine’s colleague from Virginia, said in a statement that “the process around the Mountain Valley Pipeline stinks.” “Over the next few days, I’ll be working with my colleagues to see if we can’t find reasonable solutions as we work to keep the government running,” Warner said.
Some Democrats have expressed support for the bill, noting it would speed up transmission pipelines to send clean energy to rural population centers. “I continue to support it because I believe transmission will be one of the biggest challenges in the deployment of clean energy,” Senator Brian Schatz told reporters, arguing that a clean energy transition “will not work if transmission lines last 15 years to allow.”
A new report from the REPEAT project at Princeton University, released Wednesday, found that the Inflation Reduction Act could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, but only with the rapid expansion of electricity transmission. “To achieve the full emissions reduction potential of IRA, new clean electricity needs to be added quickly to both meet the growing demand for electrification and reduce the use of fossil fuels in the energy sector. Limiting transmission growth severely limits the expansion of wind and solar power,” the report said. But some environmentalists have expressed concern that expanding greenhouse gas and coal projects could undermine progress made by the Inflation Reduction Act to reduce emissions. Other critics argue that the backroom trade that led to the licensing measure is not exactly a shining example of government transparency.
Despite the agitation, Schumer this week resolutely urged that the permit proposal remain with the CR. “The licensing reform is part of the [Inflation Reduction Act], and I plan to add it to the CR and make it happen,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday. “There’s no reason Republicans shouldn’t support it.” Whether the Democrats will support it is another matter.
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