Debt Limit Deal Approval For West Virginia Pipeline, Environmental Law Restrictions

The agreement unveiled this weekend by President Biden and House Republican leaders would legislate the approval of a contentious West Virginia natural gas pipeline and shorten environmental evaluations under one of the nation’s foundational environmental laws.

The sanctioning of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a pipeline that would carry gasoline from West Virginia to Virginia and has become a pet project of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVa.), is included in the 99-page plan to raise the debt ceiling.

If Manchin decides to compete for reelection next year in ruby-red West Virginia, he will point to the pipeline as something he helped secure.

“I am proud to have fought for this critical project and secured the bipartisan support required to see it through,” he said.

Debt Limit Deal Approval For West Virginia Pipeline, Environmental Law Restrictions

The agreement also reduces the time the federal government can take to analyze the environmental effect of a proposed project, restricting the most intensive evaluations to two years and less rigorous reviews to one year.

When attempting similar reforms, the Trump administration discovered that the average timeframe for more stringent reviews was approximately 4.5 years.

Proponents argue that the existing system takes too long and hinders essential infrastructure projects, while opponents say that shorter timetables limit community involvement in potentially detrimental initiatives. The debt-reduction measure would also impose page restrictions on these evaluations.

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Both the pipeline and deadline proposals may meet opposition from some Democrats ten members of the caucus voted against a similar effort in the Senate last year. At the same time, scores of House Democrats spoke out against them.

However, because of the debt limit, the extent of any such opposition is unclear, though more than 80 people recently signed onto a new letter saying that any agreement should include a buildout of the country’s electric infrastructure, total funding for offices that conduct environmental reviews, and a focus on implementation rather than “gutting” environmental laws.

Some elements in the plan may strengthen areas that Democrats have advocated for, such as renewable energy and electrical transmission infrastructure.

It includes explicitly energy storage projects frequently used to store renewable energy in batteries — to those eligible for a program that could provide more cooperation in their approval process.

It also necessitates researching how much electricity can be moved between the country’s grid areas.

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