Senator Joe Manchin Secures Gas Pipeline in Debt Ceiling Deal
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Senator Joe Manchin’s continued efforts to advance the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which will transport methane gas across West Virginia and Virginia, are expected to succeed as part of the debt ceiling deal. This has sparked anger among environmental groups, and opposition has come from both sides of the aisle, sparking the introduction of amendments.

Manchin secured a provision in the deal that would require federal agencies to grant all remaining permits for a natural gas pipeline, within 21 days after enactment, for its “construction and initial operation at full capacity,” according to the bill’s text released on Sunday.

Significantly, if passed, the project would be protected from further legal challenges. The pipeline would cross waterways and national forest lands, which led to a complex environmental permitting process and multiple lawsuits have stalled progress.

The 42-inch diameter, approximately 300-mile-long pipeline is projected to cost $6.6 billion.

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The conservative Democrat from West Virginia previously expressed criticism of the Biden administration’s climate change agenda but has commended the White House and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R) for their efforts in the negotiations. In a Tuesday interview, Manchin said:

 All of a sudden, [the White House] did their job, they negotiated. And Kevin McCarthy did his job by putting something first and starting this negotiation. So, I applaud both sides.

Environmentalists are outraged that both Congress and the Biden administration have intervened after they had successfully crippled the project in court. In April, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit cited violations of the Clean Water Act and invalidated the permits for the pipeline. The debt deal legislation would restrict challenges to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, requiring lawsuits to challenge the legislation itself rather than the project, with the bill’s text stating that, “no court shall have jurisdiction to review any action taken.”

On Tuesday, Tennessee state lawmaker Justin Pearson (D) said:

For this administration to profess that it cares about environmental justice, and then greenlight Mountain Valley Pipeline while gutting the National Environmental Policy Act, is abhorrent and wrong.

Critics argue that carving out exceptions for the pipeline is a back-door mechanism, frustrating their efforts. Crystal Cavalier-Keck, co-founder of the indigenous environmental justice group 7 Directions of Service said:

Literally, they are changing the rules as we are playing the game.

The Biden Admin argues that they have defended the President’s climate change agenda, and pushed back against Republican attempts to defund “environmental justice” projects. Abdullah Hasan, a White House spokesperson, stated:

President Biden protected his historic climate legislation, stopped House Republicans from clawing back record funding for environmental justice projects, and secured a deal to get hundreds of clean energy projects online faster all while protecting the full scope of environmental reviews.

Manchin previously attempted to advance the pipeline through a bill that ultimately failed when Senate Republicans blocked it in response to his yes vote on the Inflation Reduction Act. A White House official stated that the pipeline’s inclusion in the debt ceiling bill fulfills a compromise reached between the White House, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Manchin last year to secure his vote for the Inflation Reduction Act. The Biden administration has issued several federal permits necessary for the project in recent months.

There will be a final attempt to remove the pipeline provision from the debt ceiling bill. Lawmakers from both parties have filed amendments to remove the pipeline language from the debt ceiling proposal, including House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Keith Self, a Republican from Texas.

Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, also plans to file a Senate amendment. A spokesperson from his office said:

Sen. Kaine is extremely disappointed by the provision of the bill to greenlight the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia, bypassing the normal judicial and administrative review process every other energy project has to go through.

On Tuesday, activists protested outside of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s residence, demanding to kill the pipeline deal. Environmental groups are also planning a sit-in protest in front of the White House next week to oppose the pipeline. 

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