Details on the permitting reform demanded by Senator Manchin remain scant. Many fear it could prove a giveaway to fossil fuel companies.

By Kate Aronoff, The New Republic

Last month, Senator Chuck Schumer struck a deal. Now the majority leader seems determined to see it through, despite ever more Democrats expressing their skepticism.

The broad outlines of the bargain reached principally between Schumer, as Senate majority leader, and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin was this: In exchange for Manchin’s vote on the Inflation Reduction Act, which contained numerous Democratic climate priorities, Schumer would put something called permitting reform into the continuing resolution, or C.R., that needs to pass to keep funding the federal government after the end of the month. In essence, permitting reform means streamlining the process by which new energy infrastructure—clean or otherwise—gets approved at the federal level.

“The bottom line is very simple,” Schumer told reporters on Tuesday. “The permitting agreement is part of the IRA agreement. I’m going to add it to the C.R., and it will pass.” The majority leader’s office declined to provide another on-the-record statement for this piece.

What exactly Manchin and Schumer propose to pass under the heading of “permitting reform” remains a bit of a mystery. The most recent available text is still a draft leaked way back in July, emblazoned with a watermark from the American Petroleum Institute. A one-pager along similar lines has been circulating among lawmakers and lobbyists for several weeks. These drafts suggest permitting reform may consist of developing a list of “priority” projects—including projects for fossil fuels, carbon capture and storage, critical minerals, nuclear, hydrogen, electric transmission, renewables. The drafts also include limiting timelines for environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA; limiting court challenges to energy infrastructure; and expanding the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s ability to approve interstate transmission lines, overriding state and local blockages. The text also includes a green light for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a pet project of Manchin’s that he hopes to exclude from any sort of judicial review, overriding the courts that have already blocked it.

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