Manchin’s big energy deal is drawing backlash from many Democrats

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats desperately needed the vote of Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia to pass their signature legislative priority. So they did what Washington does best: They made a deal.

To help support a bill hailed by advocacy groups as the biggest investment ever to curb climate change, Manchin said he secured a commitment from President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders to move it through Congress before September . 30, end of the current financial year.

Now the climate bill is law, and Manchin is ready to cash in. But key Democratic constituencies are lining up against the proposal, calling it bad for the country and the climate. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and dozens of members of the House agree.

The rift could complicate the party’s efforts to keep the focus on crucial summer legislative victories in November’s midterm elections, which will determine which party controls the House and Senate. More immediately, the gap is testing the ability of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to keep enough Democrats in line to avoid a partial government shutdown at the end of the month. .

Schumer moves on. He said this week that he would attach Manchin’s preferred measure to mandatory legislation that would keep the federal government going until mid-December.

To win over skeptics, some Democrats point out that Manchin’s proposal to streamline environmental reviews for energy infrastructure projects would also be good for renewables.

A summary of the proposed legislation has been circulating among Senate Democrats in recent days and was obtained by The Associated Press. He says the package being developed is key to meeting climate goals by developing interstate transmission lines that would carry electricity from Midwestern wind farms, for example, to major East Coast cities.

“Unfortunately, today these higher voltage and longer lines in many jurisdictions are not being built,” the summary said.

The summary says about 20 major transportation projects are poised to move forward with some federal support.

“Reforms to address permitting, siting and cost-sharing issues are key to building these projects,” the document says.

In interviews, key Democratic senators echoed a similar message, calling the energy proposal complementary to the massive climate package passed last month.

“Right now, there’s too much of a backlog in solar, wind and geothermal, so I want every opportunity I can to accelerate renewable energy licensing,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said the permitting effort is about ensuring timely compliance with key environmental laws, such as simultaneous reviews by government agencies rather than one agency starting its work after another has finished.

Schatz said the “old environmental movement” was built around stopping inappropriate projects, but the “new environmental movement” is based on creating an unprecedented amount of clean energy.

“To do that, we’re going to be dealing with the same regulations that have stopped bad projects for many years,” Schatz said. “If we’re really going to meet our clean energy goals, we’re going to have to build big projects to save the planet, and that means federal regulations that slow them down need to be looked at very carefully.”

The legislative text embodying Manchin’s priorities has yet to be released, but among the goals he has set is to establish a maximum timeline for approving revisions, including two years for major projects and one year for lower-impact projects. Manchin also wants a statute of limitations for filing court appeals and language that would strengthen the federal government’s authority over interstate electric transmission projects determined by the Energy Secretary to be in the national interest.

Finally, he wants to ask all relevant agencies to take the necessary steps to allow the construction and operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile (487-kilometer) pipeline that is mostly finished and will carry natural gas throughout West Virginia and Virginia.

The proposed route crosses more than 1,100 streams and would disturb 6,951 acres (2,813 ha) of land, including 4,168 acres (1,687 ha) that have the potential for severe water erosion. When fully completed, the pipeline will deliver up to 2 billion cubic feet (56 million cubic meters) of natural gas per day to the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast European markets.

Legal battles delayed completion by nearly four years and doubled the cost of the pipeline, now estimated at $6.6 billion. Manchin also wants to give Washington’s federal appeals court jurisdiction over any further appeals over the project.

More than 70 House Democrats signed a letter Friday urging Pelosi to keep the authorization provisions out of the spending bill or any other legislation that must pass this year.

“We are deeply concerned that these severe and harmful licensing provisions will significantly and disproportionately affect low-income communities, Indigenous communities, and communities of color,” the lawmakers wrote.

Sanders directed his ire mainly at efforts to open the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Speaking on the Senate floor, he cited the litany of climate disasters taking place around the world — from record droughts in the West and China, to massive floods in Pakistan, to melting glaciers that he said could create major U.S. cities . underwater in the coming decades.

“At a time when climate change threatens the very existence of the planet, why would anyone talk about substantially increasing carbon emissions and expanding fossil fuel production in the United States?” Sanders said. “What kind of message does this send to the people of our country and to people who are suffering around the world?”

Schatz called the Mountain Valley Pipeline a “different animal” that he wouldn’t normally accept, but “we made a deal with Joe Manchin.” He said the deal, which led to the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act last month, put the US on a path to achieving the most emissions reductions in the country’s history.

This bill uses changes to the tax code to move the US to cleaner energy sources. It provides tax breaks to consumers who buy electric vehicles, solar panels and more energy-efficient appliances, while also providing financial incentives to manufacturers of such products. In addition, the bill spends billions of dollars on things like transitioning the US Postal Service’s fleet to electric vehicles.

Supporters predict the bill puts the U.S. on track to cut emissions 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

“On the network, that’s not a close call,” Schatz said. “… I don’t like this pipeline, but it’s not the main environmental problem on the planet. The main environmental problem is that we’re not doing enough wind and solar. And now we’re going to see wind and solar take off like rocket ships.” .

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Follow AP’s coverage of climate-related stories at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment.

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This story has been corrected to show that the pipeline will deliver 2 billion cubic feet, not 2 cubic feet, of natural gas per day.

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