Manchin tries again on permitting overhaul

By Jeremy Dillon | 05/02/2023 06:21 AM EDT

The West Virginia Democrat will reintroduce his permitting bill Tuesday. “I am confident that we will find a path forward,” he said.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) at the Capitol on Tuesday. Francis Chung/POLITICO

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin is relaunching his quest to overhaul the nation’s permitting laws Tuesday by reintroducing his proposal that capsized last year.

The West Virginia Democrat’s bill, dubbed the “Building American Energy Security Act of 2023,” largely matches the language and provisions of a negotiated measure that failed to advance in the last Congress. Manchin said the base text would serve as a starting point for further Senate negotiations.

“There is overwhelming bipartisan recognition that our current permitting processes aren’t working, and equally bipartisan support for addressing it through comprehensive permitting reform legislation,” Manchin said in a statement. “I am confident that we will find a path forward.”


The bill’s introduction comes as Congress continues informal talks on overhauling the nation’s permitting laws. While the House passed a partisan bill, H.R. 1, in March that included permitting reforms and some hearings have been held in the Senate, there has been little momentum thus far to advance a serious negotiated agreement.

Whether Manchin’s bill gets the ball rolling on that front is up for debate. Among its provisions, the bill would look to speed up the time for environmental reviews by setting a two-year shot clock on agencies to complete their work. It would also enable projects to seek legal enforcement of that timeline should agencies blow through the deadline.

The bill would set a 150-day statute of limitations for legal challenges against an issued permit, along with a host of other changes to accelerate the legal review process.

Critical to Democratic support, the bill also contains a section dedicated to expanding and bolstering the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s ability to site and permit interstate transmission lines.

Crucially for Manchin, the legislation would once again authorize the controversial Mountain Valley pipeline, a natural gas effort that runs through his state. Though it is more than 90 percent completed, it has run into multiple legal problems related to environmental reviews.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm recently endorsed the project’s authorization, even as progressives have raged against its completion.

Manchin’s attempt at permitting overhaul last year ultimately succumbed to pressure from both the left and right. Progressives rebelled against what they saw as an attack on environmental protections in favor of fossil fuel infrastructure. Republicans mostly refused to engage on an effort that was the result of Manchin’s earlier backing of what became the Inflation Reduction Act.

The issue came to a head in December as Manchin forced a vote on the bill as an amendment to the annual national Defense policy bill. The amendment failed, although it did attract seven Republican senators.

Manchin cited that bipartisan support as a reason to retry his effort.

ENR intends to hold a legislative hearing on the bill as soon as next week. Permitting is almost certain to come up when FERC commissioners appear before Manchin’s committee later this week. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had its own hearing last week.

Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed interest in finding a bipartisan pathway for some type of permitting reform this year. EPW ranking member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and ENR ranking member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said they would also introduce a proposal.

Manchin said of his plan, “I am introducing the Building American Energy Security Act today to restart the conversation in the Senate about accelerating our permitting process as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee continues to discuss, consider, and act on advancing this critical topic.”

Reporter Miranda Willson contributed.

This story also appears in Energywire and Climatewire.