Manchin's pitch to energy leaders: IRA without permitting reform a missed opportunity

·4 min read
J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

PITTSBURGH — Sen. Joe Manchin pitched his permitting reform legislation to a crowd of global energy leaders and private sector executives as essential to achieving the full goals of the Inflation Reduction Act he helped craft.

The West Virginia Democrat also told the crowd at the Global Clean Energy Action Forum in Pittsburgh that the Senate would start voting on the permitting legislation next week, likely on Tuesday. But the legislation faces stiff opposition in both parties.

Manchin's appearance was disrupted by a handful of protesters seemingly opposed to the bill's provisions aimed to help spur completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which the senator is a staunch advocate of. This followed a protest Thursday against permitting of natural gas infrastructure at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by opponents of efforts to build new fossil fuel infrastructure in the United States.

Most of the developed world can build and permit infrastructure in a few years, but the U.S. permitting process can take as long as a decade, Manchin said.

"Why should we be at a disadvantage and can't compete?" he said. "We know what needs to be done. Why can't we be able to do it?"

In the Inflation Reduction Act, "everything's based on a 10-year window," Manchin added. "If it takes seven to eight years or longer to permit something, we're going to miss the window for having those investments come to fruition and you miss that window, then you're going to have money stranded out there."

Democrats' party-line climate and clean energy spending bill was enacted earlier this year after more than a year of negotiations that were halted more than once by Manchin. The ultimate legislation that took the form of the Inflation Reduction Act included long-term investments in traditional clean energy sources like wind and solar through expanded tax credits, as well as new incentives for energy storage, domestic manufacturing, clean hydrogen and advanced nuclear.

As part of a deal struck with Democratic leadership to pass the climate bill, Manchin introduced legislation this week attached to a must-pass continuing resolution to reform the federal permitting process.

The permitting bill would set limits on environmental reviews and require the president to identify energy projects of critical national importance. The legislation also directed agencies to "take all necessary actions" to issue new permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a delayed project that would deliver natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina.

But the legislation still faces tough odds with opposition from both progressive Democrats and staunch Republicans.

"By next week, we'll either have a permitting process that accelerates and lets us compete on a global basis of how we do things and bring things to market or not," Manchin said.

He added it will "take an awful lot of heavy lifting" in the next two or three days, but said he is hopeful the legislation will overcome opposition.

"Everyone wins from this if they'll look at it," he said. "It's not about one person. It should not be about one person. It should be about, 'Is this good for our country?'"

Clean energy supporters and Democrats who support the permitting bill have pointed to the climate benefits of the proposal, particularly for expanding transmission lines that will be critical to connecting the expected influx of clean energy projects to the grid.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told reporters Friday the Biden administration supports the deal that it took to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, including the permitting bill.

"We are very excited at DOE about the potential for streamlined permitting on clean energy projects," she said. "I think that holds the greatest promise for the goals we'd like to achieve which is, of course, to get to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035."

The secretary said that "the amount of transmission and certainly clean energy capacity that's needed" is what keeps her "up at night." She added the process will need to include identifying public lands and rights-of-way that ease the process for transmission build-out in a way that respects tribal lands and through community input.

Manchin, for his part, said Friday permitting reform was included in the bipartisan infrastructure law for traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges, and said the same type of reform will now be required for energy infrastructure.

"If we were able to do bipartisan infrastructure, which is roads and bridges and Internet services, and all the things that we rely on, why can't we do it on the energy that we deliver to each other? That doesn't make any sense at all," Manchin said. "If we get the politics out and get over our hurt feelings next week and do what America does best — lift itself up and continue to lead — I think we have an unbelievable opportunity."