Momentum Building Among Democrats Against Manchin Permitting Reform Bill
WASHINGTON — From Capitol Hill to the National Harbor in Maryland, momentum appeared to be building Friday against permitting reform legislation supported by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., being included in a bill funding the government.
A vote on the bill, which would speed up the permitting process for energy infrastructure projects, including those related to fossil fuels, was one of the enticements Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, R-N.Y., offered Manchin in return for the senator’s support for the Inflation Reduction Act.
The act, in reality, a slimmed-down version of the Build Back Better bill, makes several historic investments in the nation’s social safety net.
The new bill makes the largest investment in combating climate change in U.S. history, lowers the cost of prescription drugs over time and raises taxes on corporations, among other things.
Schumer has committed to a vote on the permitting measure before the end of September, which makes it a likely inclusion in the stopgap funding measure, also known as a continuing resolution, that Congress is expected to take up later this month.
Without a stopgap funding measure, the government will shut down on Oct. 1.
But in their letter, the 72 House Democrats, led by Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., urge Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., not to include the bill in the CR or any other spending measure, and to instead, let it be voted on as stand-alone legislation.
“According to media reports, there is agreement to advance a series of anti-environmental and anti-environmental justice provisions through the House, at the behest of the American Petroleum Institute,” the letter writers say.
“These destructive provisions will allow polluting manufacturing and energy development projects to be rushed through before the families who are forced to live near them are even aware of the plans,” they continue.
“The proposed legislation would restrict public access to the courts to seek remedies against illegal project development; place arbitrary limits on the amount of time the public is given to comment on polluting projects; and curtail public input, environmental review, and government accountability,” the letter says.
“Additionally, the API plan would require a certain number of harmful fossil fuel projects to be designated as ‘projects of strategic national importance’ to receive priority federal support, assistance, and expedited environmental review,” it continues.
“The inclusion of these provisions in a continuing resolution, or any other must-pass legislation, would silence the voices of frontline and environmental justice communities by insulating them from scrutiny,” they lawmakers say.
Meanwhile, at the DNC’s national summer meeting at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center on Friday morning, members of the party’s Environmental and Climate Crisis Council sought to find a way to send a clear, thumb’s down message on the legislation to party leaders.
On Thursday, the DNC’s Resolutions Committee voted on a two-part resolution on the permitting deal.
The first part of the resolution hailed the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, while the second part slammed the permitting bill, which it said, “undermines the climate and environmental justice leadership of President Biden and Congress.”
Specifically, the resolution said the DNC would, in particular, oppose “any bill that fast tracks or enables side-stepping of our federal, state and local regulatory, permitting and approval processes for fossil fuel infrastructure.”
But the resolution also urges Democratic leadership to hold a vote on the permitting bill as a stand-alone measure, and that was a step too far for many Democrats at the meeting who spent a good part of Friday morning discussing how to reopen the resolution to debate during the party’s general session on Saturday.
“The goodwill and progress created by the Inflation Reduction Act is being eroded by the permitting reform bill that Senator Manchin extracted as the cost of his support of the IRA,” said Ebony Twilley Martin, co-executive director of Greenpeace USA.
“This permitting deal, negotiated in secret with details that are still unknown … essentially would fast track a number of new energy projects, including new oil and gas infrastructure, that would lock in the kinds of projects and practices that are driving the climate crisis,” she said.
“Equally as bad, it would limit the ability of impacted communities to use the Environmental Protection Act and the Clean Water Act to protect their health and environment,” she added.
‘That’s why we cannot afford to take this misstep of voting to weaken the EPA this weekend,” she said. “Democrats would literally be taking a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook. It’s that serious.”
Martin noted that Greenpeace represents over 3 million supporters and that in 2020 alone “we mobilized over 5 million voters for whom fighting for climate change is a top priority.”
“More broadly, exit polls show that President Biden won seven out of 10 voters who rightly see climate change as a serious threat. President Biden’s viewership on this issue will continue to be a source of political strength with Congress’s support. So now is the time for Congress to have our backs and to give President Biden the tools that he needs to protect our children and our shared future.”
Martin suggested she would support amending the resolution to strongly oppose the bill as a stand-alone or in any other form.
That roused her listeners who earnestly discussed ways to try to get DNC Chair Jamie Harrison to give them an opportunity to speak and amend the resolution — not an easy task given that it is now part of a package of resolutions.
“In the past, there has been a way to carve out some time for discussion, when there’s been significant interest in an issue,” one member said.
With that, there was much talk among attendees at the council meeting about drafting their own letter to House leadership or putting out an email blast of some sort.
“The one thing we can’t do is stand by and do nothing,” another member of the audience said.
“We have to figure this out, because it’s too important. We cannot let the Environmental Protection Act and the Clean Water Act get rolled back while 25 different fossil fuel projects move forward in the name of compromise with a fellow Democrat. We can’t do that.”