Daily Press

Pipeline provision chafes Kaine, others

Virginia senator stunned project was included in debt bill

- By Benjamin J. Hulac

WASHINGTON — A bill to lift the limit on federal borrowing would claw back unspent funding on water, science, tribal, cybersecur­ity and pollution programs; tweak portions of a long-standing permitting law; and approve a gas pipeline long advocated by West Virginia’s two senators.

Democrats, including Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who wants to amend the bill by stripping out approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, said they were surprised the project was included.

“It affects a whole lot of landowners who are going to have their property taken for it,” Kaine said. “I think I ought to get an amendment vote.”

The legislatio­n would also authorize a study on how to move electricit­y between power grids in different regions of the U.S. and limit the page count for environmen­tal reviews of projects, like bridges, roads and mines.

Overall, the bill stops short of the expansive permitting overhaul many lawmakers have sought. Though the bill passed, some members and environmen­tal groups were infuriated by the inclusion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline language.

It also drew opposition from some Republican­s, including Reps. Keith Self of Texas and Nancy Mace of South Carolina.

“It’s not a pipeline bill, it’s a debt ceiling,” said Mace. “I mean, we need a pipeline in South Carolina,” Mace said. “It’s just so typical in Washington of the … that goes on up here.”

“Singling out the Mountain Valley Pipeline for approval in a vote about our nation’s credit limit is an egregious act,” said Peter Anderson, Virginia policy director with Appalachia­n Voices, an environmen­tal advocacy group that called for a “clean” debt ceiling bill.

Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., bracing for a tough reelection campaign if he chooses to run in 2024, has pushed for the 303-mile pipeline, which would run through his home state and into Virginia. Manchin issued a statement Monday after securing language to approve the project in the debt bill.

“I am pleased Speaker McCarthy and his leadership team see the tremendous value in completing the MVP to increase domestic energy production and drive down costs across America and especially in West Virginia,” Manchin said. “I am proud to have fought for this critical project and to have secured the bipartisan support necessary to get it across the finish line.”

Rep. Jennifer McClellan, D-Va., said she heard via Twitter the pipeline was included in the bill.

“Democrats have to be the responsibl­e adults in the room, and there’s a lot in that bill we don’t like,” McClellan said before the vote.

McClellan said courts and agencies should oversee specific projects. “That’s how these projects should be determined. Not Congress saying this, this one ‘yes,’ this one ‘no.’ ”

North America’s Building Trades Unions, which represents more than 3 million members in constructi­on, backed the bill.

“Our country’s energy future is dependent on both fossil fuels and renewables,” Sean McGarvey, the group’s president, said in a statement.

Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., a negotiator of the deal, said the permitting provisions would be the first statutory changes to the National Environmen­tal Policy Act, the key federal permitting law, in more than 40 years.

Graves told reporters the White House offered approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline during negotiatio­ns of the overall legislatio­n.

Stock in the company behind the project, Equitrans Midstream Corp., rose 41% in trading Tuesday.

Kaine said members of Congress should not be voting on approval of individual projects, in part because the companies behind a given project can donate directly to members.

“That’s why you let an administra­tive agency do it,” Kaine said, adding that they are suited to hewing to federal laws like the Clean Water Act or the Endangered Species Act. “That’s the right way to do it,” he said. “This isn’t just about building a pipeline. It’s about taking people’s land — using eminent domain to take people’s land. Some of these families have owned this land for generation­s.”

On May 15, the Forest Service issued a permit for the project to cross the Jefferson National Forest. That approval followed Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm’s letter in April urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to “expeditiou­sly” approve the pipeline.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said energy transmissi­on would be included in a follow-up deal after the debt ceiling is raised.

McCarthy said during separate conversati­ons with President Joe Biden and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., over the weekend that Republican­s would work with Democrats on a larger permitting package that will help speed up work on all types of projects.

“We made a commitment that we’re not stopping now,” McCarthy said. “And that would also deal with transmissi­on. It would deal with pipelines and others.”

Republican­s also touted the bill’s provisions to accelerate the permitting process and limit environmen­tal reviews under NEPA they said allow energy and infrastruc­ture projects to get approved within one to two years.

“NEPA has grown to just study all these things that don’t have anything to do with the environmen­t, which I would argue has worked against the protection of the environmen­t,” Graves said. “So we’re trying to refocus the scope back on that, on the environmen­tal impacts and making sure we get the best environmen­tal outcomes.”

Under the bill, federal agencies would be allowed to outsource the completion of environmen­tal reviews to the company behind a given project, which in turn may pay a separate consulting firm to complete that work.

The bill would set page limits for environmen­tal assessment­s and the more complicate­d environmen­tal impact statements, though the bill does not put a page limit on appendices.

Democrats largely defended the bill as a needed compromise to stave off the economic calamity of a national default, adding that the permitting elements were necessary to get a deal and the core elements of the 2022 climate law remained intact.

“The House Republican­s’ proposal sought changes in the law that would have allowed mining companies to store hazardous waste near communitie­s without permits, polluting industries to skirt review under the Clean Air Act, and oil refineries to expose workers and communitie­s to toxic chemicals,” a White House official told reporters Sunday, describing a previous GOP debt ceiling bill offered during negotiatio­ns. “None of that is in this agreement.”

Also included in the bill are dozens of sections that would rescind funding that has not been spent from a COVID-19 relief bill and the pandemic and economic stimulus package reached early last Congress.

Money that would be cut includes unallocate­d funding for trains in the Northeast, the Cybersecur­ity and Infrastruc­ture Security Agency, the Energy Department’s science office, the Fish and Wildlife Service, internatio­nal disasters assistance, water grants for the poor in states and within tribal nations and pollution programs at the EPA.

 ?? ?? Virginia Democrats — Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Jennifer McClellan — were unhappy a provision on the Mountain Valley Pipeline was included in the debt bill legislatio­n. MELISSA GOLDEN/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Virginia Democrats — Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Jennifer McClellan — were unhappy a provision on the Mountain Valley Pipeline was included in the debt bill legislatio­n. MELISSA GOLDEN/THE NEW YORK TIMES
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