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Joe Manchin reignites battle over energy project permitting

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced Tuesday morning that he is making another push to pass legislation to streamline the federal permitting process for energy infrastructure projects. Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is reintroducing his Building American Energy Security Act as part of the effort. According to his office, the legislation will serve as the starting point for upcoming conversations in Congress about “reforming energy permitting to ensure American energy security and independence.” “In the United States, it often takes between five and ten years — sometimes longer — to get critical energy infrastructure projects approved, putting us years behind allies like Canada, Australia, and more recently the EU, who each have policies designed to complete permitting in three years or less,” Manchin said in a statement.  “It is clear that without comprehensive permitting reform we will never ensure lasting American energy security and independence and will delay progress on environmental goals,” he continued. “I am introducing the Building American Energy Security Act today to restart the conversation in the Senate about accelerating our permitting process as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee continues to discuss, consider, and act on advancing this critical topic.”  BIDEN QUIETLY BACKS BEHEMOTH NATURAL GAS PROJECT DESPITE PLEAS FROM CLIMATE ACTIVISTS Manchin first introduced the Building American Energy Security Act in September 2022 after Congress passed and President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The legislation was billed as a necessary counterpart to the IRA, ensuring that green energy projects supported by that bill would receive quicker federal approvals. After the legislation stalled, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed in December to attach it to the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in a move supported by Biden and green energy groups, but opposed by environmental groups. However, in a 47-47 vote where 40 Democrats and seven Republicans voted in favor of the bill, the Senate rejected the amendment. BIDEN ADMIN DELIVERS BLOW TO FOSSIL FUEL PROJECT IN VICTORY FOR ECO GROUPS “There is overwhelming bipartisan recognition that our current permitting processes aren’t working, and equally bipartisan support for addressing it through comprehensive permitting reform legislation,” Manchin said Tuesday. “I am confident that we will find a path forward, and the Building American Energy Security Act, which has already enjoyed bipartisan support, will serve to kick off that process.” The Building American Energy Security Act would establish maximum timelines for permitting reviews including a two-year process for major projects and a one-year process for smaller projects. It would provide legal avenues for project developers to take against the federal government if a permitting review is delayed beyond set timelines and would mandate a single inter-agency environmental review. The legislation proposes to also limit legal challenges that seek to block projects from moving forward, direct the White House to regularly designate at least 25 high-priority wide-ranging energy infrastructure projects, and enhance federal authority over permitting interstate electric transmission facilities determined to be in the national interest. It also includes a carveout green-lighting the 300-mile West Virginia-to-Virginia Mountain Valley Pipeline project.  ECO GROUPS BLAST BIDEN ADMIN FOR SUPPORTING JOE MANCHIN’S PET PROJECT “This permitting reform proposal would speed our country along the road to energy independence,” American Clean Power Association Chief Advocacy Officer JC Sandberg said on Dec. 14. “Burdensome rules and regulations on energy generation and transmission are creating major obstacles to building clean energy projects that will significantly reduce our foreign dependence.” “This legislation allows us to strengthen our energy security while delivering the clean, abundant, and affordable power that Americans are demanding,” Sandberg added. “Further, it will create more American jobs. Lawmakers should seize this opportunity to find bipartisan common ground to solve our toughest energy challenges.” Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., joined 40 Republican senators in voting against the bill when it was attached to the NDAA in December. Along with former Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, voted in favor of the amendment. Manchin’s effort comes about a month after the House passed Republicans’ Lower Energy Costs Act, legislation that included provisions to reform permitting laws in addition to provisions boosting energy production and shoring up critical mineral supply chains. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, projects are required to go through successive rounds of permitting which can take months or, sometimes, years for relevant agencies to approve. Last year, the White House reversed Trump-era rules that aimed to streamline the process in a move blasted by renewable energy and fossil fuel industry proponents alike. In 2020, the Trump administration released a report showing that the federal government on average takes 4-5 years to complete environmental reviews. The Federal Highway Administration takes seven years on average, the longest of any agency, and the Bureau of Land Management, which is tasked with approving fossil fuel drilling permits, takes more than four years on average.

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