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Manchin pitches permitting reform as NDAA amendment


Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is not giving up his fight to reform the nation’s energy approval policies after they were not included in the annual defense spending bill. 

Manchin’s office released a statement on Wednesday in which the senator calls for his energy project permitting reform push to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as an amendment. 

“Failing to pass the bipartisan, comprehensive energy permitting reform that our country desperately needs is not an acceptable option,” Manchin said in the statement. 

“The Senate must vote to amend the NDAA to ensure the comprehensive, bipartisan permitting reform our country desperately needs is included,” he added.

Manchin tried to pass the provisions in a stopgap funding measure early this year, but the effort flopped amid opposition from both Republicans and progressives.

He has been working to build support in recent weeks, but it’s not clear whether the newest iteration will be able to garner the support necessary to make it across the finish line.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) criticized Manchin’s efforts on Tuesday as reform “in name only.”

But, the latest iteration of Manchin’s legislation includes changes that appear to be aimed at winning more GOP support.

For example, some Republicans previously complained that the package’s time limits for environmental reviews were not solid enough.

The newest version replaces language that called for agencies to consider major projects for an average of two years, instead setting a two-year deadline for such projects.

It also gives companies the right to seek a court order requiring agencies that have missed deadlines to make a decision, and requires the courts to expedite such requests.

Yet, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the third-ranking Senate Republican, told The Hill that the amendment is still not good enough. 

“It’s a nonstarter for me, it’s a nonstarter for our conference,” Barrasso said. 

Barrasso particularly expressed concerns with a policy aimed at giving federal regulators the authority to direct the construction of electric transmission lines. 

The amendment scales that provision back by allowing states one year to block a proposed transmission project. 

But, Barrasso said that’s not good enough, saying the provision needs to be removed altogether. 

Manchin also made additional changes to his original proposal including giving a president less discretion over the list of “priority” projects they would be required to expedite as well, increasing the number of both fossil and renewable projects required instead. 

While Republicans have raised concerns that Manchin’s changes don’t go far enough, Democrats have raised concerns about provisions that they fear may limit community participation in environmental reviews. Democrats have also raised concerns about pro-fossil provisions generally, including the advancement of a natural gas pipeline that runs through West Virginia and Virginia.

—Updated at 2:14 p.m.