More than 70 House Democrats are signing on to a letter pressing Democratic leaders to not include a side deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on reforming the permit process for energy projects in a bill funding the government.
The permitting reform language was offered to Manchin to win his vote on the massive climate, tax and health care bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act that was signed into law by President Biden last month.
Manchin provided the critical support to get that bill through the evenly divided Senate after winning concessions from Democratic leaders.
But in the new letter, the Democratic lawmakers are asking Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) not to include the permitting reforms championed by Manchin into a stopgap funding measure that Congress is expected to take up this month.
Without a stopgap funding measure, the government will shut down on Oct. 1.
“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 wrote.
“We urge you to ensure that these provisions are kept out of a continuing resolution or any other must-pass legislation this year,” they added in the letter that was spearheaded by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).
The opposition from Democrats is a significant problem. If the group follows through on the letter, Democrats might not have the votes to pass a government funding bill if it includes the language backed by Manchin.
And the fact that so many members signed on to the push may give them some additional leverage.
Democrats have historically opposed any changes perceived as undercutting environmental reviews in the permitting process, arguing that this could hamper the consideration of climate and pollution concerns.
When they announced the agreement on the major climate, tax and health care bill, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Manchin said that they, along with Pelosi and President Biden, had reached a deal to pass permitting reform by October to secure Manchin’s vote.
Schumer has already said publicly that he would include the provisions in a stopgap funding measure, known as a continuing resolution.
Legislative text on these reforms have not yet been released, but a summary from Manchin’s office says they would set maximum timelines for environmental reviews assessing an energy project’s potential climate and pollution impacts, restrict states’ abilities to block projects that run through their waters and require the president to prioritize certain projects.
Specifically, the president will be required to prioritize permitting for a “balanced” list of projects including both fossil fuels and renewable energy.
The summary also said the package will require the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a controversial vessel that would carry natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia.
Grijalva previously told The Hill that he didn’t feel an “obligation” to vote for the changes since he was not part of the negotiations with Manchin. He has argued that members should not have to choose between funding the government and voting for changes that they oppose.
In the new letter, the lawmakers said that they support bolstering the environmental review process by providing more funding for government agencies, but oppose “attempts to short-circuit or undermine” a key environmental law requiring the reviews.
Updated at 1:04 p.m.