Facing mounting opposition from environmentalists, frontline communities, and fellow Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Joe Manchin is reportedly asking oil and gas executives to help him build Republican support for permitting legislation that aims to weaken bedrock environmental laws and ease the review process for dirty energy projects.
Bloomberg reported Monday that Manchin's outreach "has included companies in the mining, utilities, and oil and gas industry," all of which stand to benefit from a federal permitting overhaul—and all of which donate to the West Virginia Democrat's political campaigns.
"Give us a clean CR and let these dirty permitting provisions stand up to congressional scrutiny on their own."
"Passing the legislation would mark a big win for the industry and its long-sought efforts to accelerate permitting and scale back environmental reviews that can take years," Bloomberg noted. "Among projects that could benefit is a stalled $6.6 billion Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline—which would help to unlock more supplies of the fuel from the Marcellus shale."
"Manchin is set to address chief executive officers at the Washington-based Business Roundtable's quarterly meeting later this week," the outlet added, citing a person familiar with the senator's plans.
While changes to federal permitting laws could also help expedite clean energy projects, environmentalists and the dozens of members of the Democratic caucus say the acceleration of pipeline approvals and other fossil fuel infrastructure would undermine U.S. climate goals and harm local communities, negating the potential benefits.
"A leaked draft of a side deal to weaken and truncate environmental reviews is nothing more than the wishlist for all extractive industries," reads a letter that more than 160 advocacy groups sent to Democratic leaders Monday. "There is no way to mitigate the damage that would be done by this side deal, it must be unequivocally rejected."
As part of a deal to secure Manchin's support for the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, Democratic leaders agreed to hold a vote on permitting reforms that the senator and his industry allies have long demanded.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are expected to attach a permitting reform bill to a government funding measure that must pass by the end of the month to avoid a shutdown. The White House said Monday that President Joe Biden is committed to advancing permitting reforms.
Depending on how many Senate Democrats oppose the permitting deal, Manchin may need to win more than 10 Republican votes. Thus far, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the only member of the Senate Democratic caucus to vow to vote against a government funding package that includes permitting reforms.
As Manchin enlists fossil fuel executives to get the GOP on board with his yet-to-be-released bill amid growing pushback from members of his own party, dozens of Republicans led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) are pursuing their own permitting legislation that climate groups warn would be even more damaging to the environment.
According to a summary released by Capito's office Monday, the GOP bill would codify former President Donald Trump's attacks on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Clean Water Act and bar the adoption of the Biden administration's "social cost of greenhouse gases" estimate.
"This so-called 'permitting reform' bill is nothing more than a shameless attempt to make it easier for fossil fuel companies to steamroll communities and fast-track their polluting projects," said Mahyar Sorour, Sierra Club's deputy legislative director. "Efforts to weaken NEPA and limit the public's ability to weigh in on pipelines and other infrastructure that would affect them would be devastating for our communities, especially in places like Appalachia and the Gulf South that have already been treated as fossil fuel sacrifice zones for far too long."
While Manchin didn't explicitly endorse Capito's bill, he told reporters Monday that it is "wonderful that we're all on the same page—we all know that we need to have permitting reform."
Many of Manchin's Democratic colleagues disagree. On Friday, 72 House Democrats released a letter expressing opposition to the proposed federal permitting overhaul and denounced plans to attach it to must-pass government funding legislation.
Since Friday, five additional House Democrats have signed the letter.
"I don't know how a [continuing resolution] vote will go if it includes the permitting rider, but the opposition is loud and only getting louder," Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the letter's chief organizer, said Monday.
"I encourage leadership to listen to its caucus and keep us out of a shutdown standoff that nobody wants," he added. "Give us a clean CR and let these dirty permitting provisions stand up to congressional scrutiny on their own. Now is not the time to roll the dice on a government shutdown."