Nov 21, 2022
With just over a month until Republicans officially take control of the U.S. House of Representatives, a committee chair on Monday warned outgoing Democratic leadership against reviving the "dirty deal" on permitting reform that was defeated in September.
"Manchin's legislation is a harbinger for the permanent silencing of environmental justice communities in the permitting process."
House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) sent a brief note to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) along with a letter--first delivered in September--showing that dozens of Democrats oppose the permitting legislation spearheaded by right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
In a closed-door deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) Manchin agreed to support the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)--signed by President Joe Biden in August--in exchange for Democrats pushing through a permitting reform bill.
While Schumer planned to include Manchin's fossil fuel-friendly Energy Independence and Security Act in a September stopgap funding package, the legislation was pulled out at the last minute because it lacked the votes to pass--leading climate and frontline activists to declare that "people power has won the day."
Since then, Manchin has said that he is "working" on getting his controversial bill included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2023, which Grijalva noted in his Monday message to Pelosi and Hoyer--who are both leaving party leadership in the wake of this month's midterm elections, when the GOP won a narrow majority in the House.
As plans are finalized to advance the National Defense Authorization Act and government funding legislation in the coming weeks, I write to respectfully highlight the request in the enclosed letter to exclude harmful permitting provisions from must-pass legislation this year. Once again, I greatly appreciate your comments that House leadership never agreed to include permitting legislation in any specific legislative vehicle, including must-pass government funding legislation, and thank you for your committed and ongoing leadership.
In a statement Monday, Grijalva said that "given its unpopularity the first time around, I'm all but certain that another dirty deal would be dead on arrival, but I'm not taking any chances."
"Democrats are closing out this Congress with historic wins across the board, including climate action and environmental justice," he added. "Let's not pollute that legacy with harmful legislative riders that nobody wants."
E&E News recently reported that "lawmakers consider the NDAA and upcoming end-of-year omnibus spending legislation as the two most realistic options for getting the permitting reform legislation done this Congress."
As Grijalva warned against efforts to advance the dirty deal on Monday, the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition--of which he is a member--released a policy brief titled Permitting Reform for the Clean Energy Future.
"IRA provided the incentives and financing needed to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy at the pace necessary to meet the crisis we face," the document states. "With those investments now in hand, the next task ahead of us is ensuring that federal permitting laws that were written for the fossil fuel era work for the new clean energy age that we are now entering."
The brief--which focuses on electric transmission and increased community engagement--also stresses that "building out the requisite clean energy infrastructure as quickly and as equitably as possible can only be achieved if disadvantaged communities are properly engaged in the permitting process, rather than ignored and disproportionately burdened, as has happened all too often in the past."
Although Manchin has claimed during debates about his bill that improving permitting for electric transmission lines is a key priority of his, The American Prospect's executive editor, David Dayen, highlighted last week that as head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, he is refusing to hold a nomination hearing for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) chair Richard Glick.
As Dayen explained:
Glick's term expired in June, and without confirmation by the end of the year, he would have to step down from FERC, leaving the agency deadlocked between Democrats and Republicans.
That could stall out the work FERC is doing on accelerating the electricity transmission build-out, which is generally seen as among the biggest challenges to the green transition. If more transmission lines cannot be built to move renewable energy from where it is produced to where power is needed, much of the clean energy benefits from the Inflation Reduction Act will be lost, and hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gases that could be avoided will be emitted per year.
"The situation calls into question whether Manchin cares all that much about bolstering domestic energy production, or if he is more myopically interested in getting particular fossil fuel projects in West Virginia approved and built, over local objections," Dayen added. "At any rate, it's hard to say he's a sincere believer in improving transmission build-out, when he's stalling its biggest champion in the government."
Meanwhile, as some congressional Republican lawmakers reportedly appear open to working with Manchin on permitting reform, climate campaigners and frontline communities continue to organize against his proposal.
Following Biden's mid-November appearance at COP27, the United Nations climate summit that concluded in Egypt this past weekend, more than 100 environmental and allied groups sent the president a letter expressing "deep concern" with his support for Machin's bill.
"Sen. Manchin's legislation is a harbinger for the permanent silencing of environmental justice communities in the permitting process, while also eviscerating the rights to due process in a court of law should they deem it necessary to protect their communities from harm," they wrote.
\u201cWe joined 70+ EJ groups and 60 allied orgs to show our commitment to equity and justice by sending a letter to President Biden expressing concern about his support of dangerous permitting ideas, like the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022. https://t.co/3fEleYCFcR\u201d— EWG (@EWG) 1668522960
"Instead, we urge your administration to support the Environmental Justice for All Act (H.R. 2021/S. 872)," the letter continues, praising a bill introduced by Grijalva and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).
The letter explains that the Environmental Justice for All Act not only "is a comprehensive bill to reduce environmental inequities that includes provisions to protect and strengthen public participation and tribal consultation," but also "includes provisions to ensure the consideration of cumulative impacts in the permitting process as well as consideration of alternatives."
Juan Jhong-Chung of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, a signatory to the letter, said last week that "no matter our race or our zip code, every family deserves clean air, clear water, and healthy neighborhoods where we can thrive for generations. But Sen. Manchin and the fossil fuel industry are threatening our future by promoting dangerous, polluting projects in Congress."
"Any policies that fast-track or expand fossil fuel infrastructure and false solutions like carbon capture and hydrogen are incompatible with the principles of environmental justice," Jhong-Chung continued. "From the straits of Mackinac to Detroit, our communities are united in the fight against environmental racism and the climate crisis."
"We ask President Biden and his administration to reassert their commitment to his Justice40 Initiative," the campaigner added, urging him to reject all "'permitting reform' efforts that threaten the lives and well-being of Black, Indigenous, people of color, and low-wealth communities in Michigan and around the country."
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