Manchin climate adherence has a cost for environmental review

In order to enlist Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) support for their climate legislation, Democrats are poised to implement policy changes that could directly help one of the senator’s favorite projects, but which activists say could harm them. low-income voters and people of color.

On Monday, Manchin revealed details of a plan to expedite environmental reviews of potentially polluting projects that was part of the deal made with the Democratic leadership.

The deal appears to cover both the broader environmental review process and more immediately a pipeline in West Virginia that he’s been looking for for a long time.

“Completing this pipeline will increase supply [and] strengthen US energy security, “Manchin tweeted on Tuesday.

But environmental justice advocates, who oppose approval of the pipeline, say the deal could undermine the entire review process, putting already disadvantaged groups on an even greater share of the country’s pollution burden.

When Manchin announced last week that he would go ahead with the climate and tax provisions that the Democrats have been clamoring for, he said the Democrats would also be advancing “common sense authorization reforms” this fall.

The deal, detailed in a fact sheet on Monday, would set time limits for environmental reviews: two years for large projects and one year for those with less impact. It would also require the president to keep a list of 25 priority energy projects.

It essentially gives states a one-year time limit to veto infrastructure projects such as pipelines that cross their waters, while clarifying that the impacts on water quality of the activity itself must be the basis for the review.

The Trump administration had implemented some similar reforms which are now being undone by the Biden administration.

The fact sheet also says agencies will be required to allow the construction and operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a controversial ship that will ship natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia.

Michelle Nowlin, a law professor at Duke University, said she found the provisions “worrying”, particularly those that put “artificial deadlines” in the environmental review process.

“This is certainly a concern, that corners will be cut,” Nowlin said, pointing to communities that have historically borne the brunt of pollution.

“There is an opportunity to further concentrate the damage in those communities, to have a disparate impact in those communities and to silence their voices as they attempt to participate in the process,” he said.

“If you are to accelerate this review, how much time will actually be spent in communities listening to and understanding their concerns and following them up?” she added.

Jamie Pleune, an associate professor of law at the University of Utah, also said shorter timelines could prevent bad projects from gaining the control they need.

“When you set a maximum timeline, you are essentially saying, ‘We will release the permit at the end of this period,’ but there may be some projects that require further review,” said Pleune.

Christy Goldfuss, who headed the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Obama administration, said that while the changes may not necessarily be what Democrats wanted, they could also strengthen clean energy and will be accompanied by additional funding for environmental reviews.

“The reported permit reform agreement serves to put the federal government on a timeline,” he said in a statement. “The reconciliation package also includes funding for agencies to carry out this review. These two pieces combined could have a huge impact on building the clean energy needed to tackle climate change, making sure the impact on the environment is as minimal as possible. ”

Goldfuss added in an interview that the permission changes are “much more aggressive … than the Democrats would have wanted on their own,” but noted that some in the party have also expressed concern about how long it takes to implement certain projects. .

And proponents of the permit reforms say it can also be used to help strengthen clean energy.

“For environmental groups, it is time for them to review their approach to energy infrastructure,” said Neil Chatterjee, former Republican Commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Chatterjee, who is now a senior consultant to Hogan Lovells, noted that these groups largely support the construction of clean energy.

“They are no longer at a point where they need to stop building energy infrastructure, they want to see it positioned,” he said.

Manchin, meanwhile, appeared to be particularly proud of the deal’s pipeline piece, publicizing it in an interview on Tuesday on local radio.

“There isn’t another project in America today that will bring that much energy … that it will bring 2 billion cubic feet back to market,” he said.

Goldfuss, who is now the senior vice president for energy and environmental policy at America’s Liberal Center for Progress, said this was an area where Democrats had to give in to Manchin.

“This is just a gigantic tribute to the fossil fuel industry that was clearly important to Senator Manchin,” he said. “This is just the most striking of what’s in the two packages combined, from our point of view.”

Green groups oppose the pipeline for environmental reasons, raising concerns about climate change, dependence on fossil fuels and the impact on flows.

Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity, also expressed concern about proposed new limits on state capabilities to cancel projects such as pipelines.

“The intent appears to be to guard Trump’s and industry’s proposal to avoid taking into account things like climate and damage to endangered aquatic species,” he said. “This is a huge success for the rights of the states.”

It is one of several areas where Democrats are giving ground to Manchin to get his support on a list of clean energy tax credits and other measures.

The reconciliation package also links future clean energy leases on land and public waters to new leases for onshore and offshore drilling. It also pledges that the Department of the Interior contain at least a few more lease sales for offshore drilling in the years to come.

Siegel said the Democrats must pay a high price to get Manchin’s approval and should fight some of them.

“There is real damage that will happen to our most vulnerable communities and the climate from the concessions being made to Manchin to win his vote,” Siegel said.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: