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Debt deal would approve Mountain Valley Pipeline

May 28, 2023
Section of Mountain Valley Pipeline

A section of the Mountain Valley pipeline. Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

The debt ceiling deal would expedite approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline — an idea sure to annoy progressives in both chambers.

Why it matters: The White House and congressional leadership are already working with thin margins.

  • The pipeline's inclusion in the deal is a win for Sen. Joe Manchin and the West Virginia delegation. But it’s going to prompt many progressives, who would get relatively little in return, to vote against the deal.
  • "Disgusting,” Rep. Jared Huffman told Axios in a one-word text message reacting to the Mountain Valley news.

Details: The bill text includes language on the pipeline that Manchin has been trying to maneuver into law for nearly a year.

  • The 303-mile natural gas pipeline spanning from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia has been stalled because of environmental concerns.
  • Manchin tried — and failed — to pass it as part of his permitting proposal last year.
  • As expected, the bill would establish timelines for National Environmental Policy Act reviews — two years for an environmental impact statement and one year for an environmental assessment.
  • It would also expand categorical exclusions and speed permitting specifically for energy storage projects.
  • But it would do next to nothing on transmission, requiring only a federal study on interregional power transfer capability.

Context: Recall that the White House promised Manchin a permitting bill, including Mountain Valley, in exchange for his vote on the IRA.

  • The pipeline is nearing completion. Biden debt negotiators viewed it as a "symbolic" approval for a project that was probably going to happen anyway, according to a source familiar with the White House's thinking.
  • In exchange, they got permitting provisions they believe will speed up renewable energy projects, the source said.

Of note: Many Republicans, including lead negotiator Garret Graves, had previously publicly panned the idea of using a permitting bill to give special treatment to one project.

  • Ironically, it was one of the reasons they didn’t like Manchin’s legislation last year.

The big picture: It’s not exactly a grand bargain on “permitting reform,” and the vote wrangling might look a bit like the Manchin bill last year.

  • This conversation is probably going to continue, as both parties seek broader changes to how the government deals with energy projects.
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