Environmental advocates say industry push for weaker fossil fuel regulatory process would be hugely destructive
Among the items on Congress’ lengthy to-do list by the end of the year is U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s proposal to speed up the federal government’s permitting process that certifies energy projects do not harm the environment.
But the bill, which was a condition of the centrist West Virginia Democrat’s support for his party’s larger climate, health care and taxes measure earlier this year, may still not have the support it needs to pass, with progressive Democrats concerned about the effects on environmental protections.
Failing to pass a bill this year would be a disappointment to Manchin and his allies in the oil, gas and coal sectors, who have pushed for years to loosen federal permitting requirements. Some renewable energy advocates also say that federal permitting must be reformed for wind and solar technology to reach their highest potential.
But it would be welcome news for environmental advocates, who say the bill would weaken a fundamental environmental law that protects communities from pollution, while providing little in the way of new renewable energy capacity.
Congress is expected to be in session through much of December, before adjourning for a new session in January and a split government as Republicans take over the House with a slim majority.
“It’s a pretty tight calendar, and they have a lot they have to do,” said Brett Hartl, the government affairs director for the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, which opposes the Manchin bill, speaking of the lame-duck session of Congress.
“So do you spend a lot of time on a piece of legislation that is very deeply divisive?”
Environmental justice concerns
Environmental groups, including those in the environmental justice movement that seeks to project marginalized communities from exposure to pollution, have opposed the bill from the start.
The measure would put time limits on environmental reviews and restrict communities’ power to challenge agency decisions in court.
“Senator Manchin’s legislation is a harbinger for the permanent silencing of environmental justice communities in the permitting process, while also eviscerating the rights to due process in a court of law should they deem it necessary to protect their communities from harm,” 70 environmental justice organizations said in a Nov. 15 letter to President Joe Biden.
The letter was distributed Monday by U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a progressive Arizona Democrat who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee and has vocally opposed the Manchin bill.
The Manchin bill targets requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, demanding that environmental reviews of major projects are completed within two years and all others are completed within one.
Those time limits don’t actually weaken the requirements of the law, but an artificial timeline without additional resources to complete reviews could lead to agencies cutting corners, said Aaron Weiss, the deputy director of the conservation group Center for Western Priorities. Read more