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Manchin's permitting bill sets up dramatic clash over government funding

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we're grateful for gorgeous sunsets on Capitol Hill. 🌅 But first:

Manchin's permitting proposal sets up dramatic clash over government funding bill

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) on Wednesday unveiled the long-awaited text of legislation to speed up the nation's permitting process for energy infrastructure, including polluting fossil fuel projects and the clean energy projects crucial to President Biden's climate goals.

But the bill, dubbed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022, faces staunch opposition from Republicans and a growing group of Democrats in both chambers of Congress.

The mounting opposition threatens to undermine an agreement between Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and President Biden to pass the permitting proposal as part of a government funding bill — an unusual compromise that secured Manchin's elusive support for the Inflation Reduction Act.

The details: The 91-page bill would take the following steps aimed at streamlining federal agencies' approval process for new energy projects, according to a summary from Manchin's office:

  • Set a two-year time limit for reviews of major projects under the National Environmental Policy Act.
  • Set a 150-day statute of limitations for lawsuits over projects.
  • Create a rolling list of 25 projects that are in the “national interest,” including five fossil fuel projects.

Most controversially, the measure seeks to expedite the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would transport natural gas about 300 miles from West Virginia to Virginia and is a key priority of Manchin's.

  • The bill directs agencies to “take all necessary actions” to issue new permits for the pipeline, which has been delayed by legal setbacks.
  • The measure also requires all future litigation over the pipeline to be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, rather than the 4th Circuit, which has previously ruled that agencies failed to consider erosion, construction runoff or the impact on endangered fish species when approving permits for the project.
More Democratic concerns

Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) on Wednesday became the latest Democrat to oppose the permitting legislation, citing the provisions that would help more than 100 miles of the Mountain Valley Pipeline traverse his home state.

“I was not consulted about it. I will do everything I can to oppose it,” Kaine told reporters Wednesday evening.

“Allowing a corporation that is unhappy about losing a case to strip jurisdiction away from the entire court that has handled the case? Unprecedented,” he added. “It would open the door for massive abuse and corruption.”

Still, Kaine stopped short of saying he would vote against the stopgap funding bill, which would raise the risks of a government shutdown when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

Earlier Wednesday, news broke that Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) was organizing a letter from a handful of liberal senators calling for a stand-alone vote on the permitting bill. That would allow critics of the permitting proposal to vote against it without voting to shut down the government.

  • The letter has garnered support from Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
  • Politico first reported on the letter. A spokeswoman for Merkley confirmed the accuracy of that report.
  • Led by House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), liberal House lawmakers have made a similar demand.

Sanders had previously come out against the permitting bill, calling it a “huge giveaway to the fossil fuel industry.” But Warren had maintained that she would withhold judgment until seeing the final text of the measure.

After seeing the text, Warren told reporters Wednesday: “If Congress is going to consider significant changes in permitting, then we should be able to have an up-or-down vote."

Republican jeers, climate hawk cheers

Meanwhile, 47 of 50 Senate Republicans have rallied around a rival permitting proposal from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) that would boost fossil fuel projects and codify some of former president Donald Trump's changes to the environmental permitting process.

“If our colleague across the aisle wants real permitting reform, Senator Capito's fantastic bill only needs Senator Manchin plus nine more Democrats to clear this chamber,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday. "Otherwise it would appear the senior senator from West Virginia traded his vote on a massive liberal boondoggle in exchange for nothing."

Still, some climate hawks have insisted that the Manchin bill would expedite the transmission lines necessary for carrying clean power across the country.

“If we don't get transmission right, we're not going to meet our clean energy goals,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), one of the Senate's most vocal climate advocates.

“The whole strategy here is to electrify everything and to create a nationwide grid,” he said, “and that's part of permitting reform.”

On the Hill

Senate ratifies treaty amendment curbing climate super-pollutants

The Senate on Wednesday voted 69-27 to ratify the Kigali Amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which compels countries to sharply limit the use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs — the planet-warming gases used in air conditioning and refrigeration that are hundreds to thousands of times as powerful as carbon dioxide in speeding up climate change, Steven Mufson reports for The Washington Post. 

U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry, who was in the Rwandan capital of Kigali when the amendment was first negotiated in 2016, said the Senate vote “was a decade in the making and a profound victory ​for the climate and the American economy.” 

In a statement, Kerry said that “businesses supported it because it drives American exports; climate advocates championed it because it will avoid up to half a degree of global warming by the end of the century; and world leaders backed it because it ensures strong international cooperation.”

The treaty, which had to win the approval of at least two-thirds of the Senate, garnered broad bipartisan support for its potential to boost American competitiveness in the global market and to avert a climate catastrophe. 

Pressure points

U.N. chief blasts fossil fuel industry, rich countries

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres delivered scathing remarks criticizing developed nations and fossil fuel companies after a closed-door roundtable Wednesday on climate change, Max Bearak reports for the New York Times. 

The remarks came after at least half a dozen global leaders met privately for a “frank and informal exchange” on climate policy during the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The meeting, which was chaired by Guterres and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, was aimed at laying the groundwork for the COP27 climate summit in Egypt in November.

After the session, Guterres warned that the more ambitious goal of the Paris agreement — limiting Earth's warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels — is “fading fast” because of government and corporate inaction.

“You have all seen the appalling images from Pakistan,” he said, referring to the devastating flooding there, which scientists have found was intensified by climate change. “This is happening at just 1.2 degrees of global warming. And we are headed for over 3 degrees.”

Environmental justice

U.S. Civil Rights Commission sees inequities in FEMA disaster response

The federal government’s response to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria in 2017 did not equally serve people with disabilities, impoverished communities and non-native English speakers, according to a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report released Wednesday, The Post’s David Nakamura reports. 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which killed 2,975 people in Puerto Rico, the commission found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency did not have enough Spanish-speaking staff members, was not adequately prepared, and that contractors hired with federal funds often failed to complete their work. Some commissioners argued that Puerto Rico’s status as a territory without full congressional representation added to the inequities it faced at the time. 

Meanwhile after Hurricane Harvey, which killed 68 people in Texas, people with disabilities often did not receive adequate accommodations after being forced into shelters. The commission recommended that FEMA streamline its application process for aid but avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach to disasters while focusing efforts on the most vulnerable communities. 

The power grid

California is awash in renewable energy — except when it’s most needed

California has brought renewable energy production to scale in recent years, but when a rare heat wave hit this month, state officials required residents to conserve electricity during peak hours to avert widespread outages because the state does not yet have enough storage capacity to hold onto excess solar and wind power, Erica Werner reports for The Post. 

Clean energy generation in the Golden State is far ahead of storage capacity, causing energy officials to turn down surplus energy just hours before demand peaks. Some proponents of the system said the current unreliability of the grid is expected while California embarks on the nation's most ambitious transition to renewable energy, and that eventually generation and storage will balance out.

But others argue that as extreme hot spells occur more frequently because of global warming, strain on the grid will only worsen and it will be hard for storage capacity to catch up. 

“The irony is that the very technology we’re relying on to fight climate change is making us vulnerable exactly at those moments when climate impacts are at their worst,” said Kyle Meng, co-director of the climate and energy program at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Environmental Market Solutions Lab.

In the atmosphere


Just hanging: 😍

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