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Sen. Joe Manchin speaks to Sen. Bill Cassidy in the Senate building

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) talks to Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on September 22, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Big Business Lobby Endorses Permitting Overhaul as Manchin Tries to Salvage Dirty Deal

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful corporate group allied with fossil fuel interests, called Manchin's bill "thoughtful" as environmentalists warn it would further damage the planet.

Jake Johnson

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world's largest corporate lobbying organization, endorsed federal permitting reforms on Monday as Sen. Joe Manchin made his last-ditch push to salvage a proposed overhaul that has drawn fierce opposition from grassroots climate groups, frontline communities, and Democratic lawmakers.

Ahead of an expected procedural vote on Tuesday, the Chamber's Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley said in a statement that Manchin (D-W.Va.) "has crafted thoughtful legislation that makes material improvements to the permitting process and can pass Congress right now."

Bradley added that the Chamber, which has a long history of lobbying on behalf of fossil fuel interests, doesn't think Manchin's bill is "perfect," criticizing proposed transmission siting reforms that some analysts say would actually help accelerate renewable energy development in the United States—in contrast to the legislation's major oil and gas handouts.

Despite the Chamber's quibbles with the bill, Bradley went on to echo Manchin's call for senators to attach permitting reforms to a government funding bill that must pass before the end of the week to avert a shutdown.

With the clock ticking, Manchin is reportedly scrambling behind the scenes to cobble together enough Republican and Democratic votes to secure passage of his proposed permitting overhaul, which would deliver a major victory for the fossil fuel industry donors that bankroll the West Virginia Democrat's campaigns.

If passed, the Energy Independence and Security Act would clear the way for final approval of the Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline, a project that has been stalled for years amid legal challenges. The legislation would also sharply constrain environmental reviews of energy projects, a change that would fast-track fossil fuel projects even as scientists say oil and gas production must be rapidly phased out to prevent climate catastrophe.

Manchin on Sunday told The Washington Post—whose editorial board has endorsed the West Virginia senator's bill—that he has secured 40 Democratic votes for the permitting measure in the Senate, meaning he will need Republican support to get the measure over the finish line.

Over the past week, Manchin has held a press conference, delivered a floor speech, and appeared on Fox News as part of his campaign to win GOP backing for permitting reforms that the party has long supported.

But Politico reported Monday that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is "urging Senate Republicans to vote no on advancing Manchin's permitting reform legislation as part of a government funding package."

Politico noted that McConnell "sees no need to help Manchin" after the West Virginia Democrat helped his party pass the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes major renewable energy investments and was unanimously opposed by congressional Republicans. McConnell has said Manchin should support Sen. Shelley Moore Capito's (R-W.Va.) permitting reform bill, which is even more friendly to the oil and gas industry.

Dozens of Democratic caucus members, meanwhile, have spoken out against Manchin's permitting reforms, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreed to pursue as a side deal in exchange for the West Virginia senator's support for the Inflation Reduction Act.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has pledged to vote against any government funding bill that includes Manchin's permitting reforms, wrote on social media Monday that "it may be a radical idea to some of my Senate colleagues and in the editorial rooms of newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch and Jeff Bezos, but I do believe the future of the planet is more important than the short term profits of the fossil fuel industry."

"Defeat the Big Oil side deal," Sanders added.

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