Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said Tuesday she is “skeptical” of a deal championed by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to speed up the nation’s permitting processes to help get projects off the ground and finished sooner, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).
Capito joined several of her GOP colleagues Tuesday for a press conference, led by Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, challenging Manchin and other Democrats in the Senate to show they are serious about permitting reform and support a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution “nullifying burdensome permitting regulations by the Biden administration.”
Those regulations are included in the recent National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Implementing Regulations Revisions, which would make the permitting processes even more burdensome.
“We find ourselves in a situation where … we want to expand,” Capito said. “We’ve got IIJA (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) that has all kinds of projects. We want that economic activity, and yet it’s stalled. It’s stalled because of the red tape of the NEPA process and other processes that are so burdensome on localities on our private developers, on our state regulators. The list goes on and on.”
Capito said the vote on the CRA resolution is a “test vote” for the Democrats’ commitment to permitting reform.
Manchin on Monday said he has secured a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and President Joe Biden that a permitting reform package will be passed by the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.
The energy permitting provisions in the framework of that package include an array of measures to speed up federal permitting processes in all areas of energy that are designated projects of “strategic national importance,” including the MVP.
Not only that, the provisions say timelines for permitting reviews will also be set, including two years for NEPA reviews for major projects and one year for lower-impact projects, a process that now takes an average of around four and a half years, the GOP senators said.
“In 2020, the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) found that average time to complete an environmental impact statement (EIS) under NEPA was four and a half years,” Capito said, and 25 percent of those projects took more than six years to complete. “Average time to complete a federal highway project … and I would say we have in that IIJA the One Federal Decision, which is supposed to cap the amount of time that these environmental reviews are supposed to take, yet those are taking more than seven years. Average time for the U.S. (Army) Corps of Engineers to complete an environmental impact statement: six years. Average length of a final environmental impact statement: 661 pages. and I’m sure those in Alaska and Wyoming and Ohio and West Virginia are much longer than that. It’s just basically unacceptable.”
Capito said Manchin may have a “deal,” but that is very different from a final vote.
“I’ve never seen anybody here that can actually guarantee a final vote,” she said. “I mean, let’s get real, especially on something that’s sensitive and so divisive at times as permitting reform. So, yesterday I said let’s see the legislative text as to what they’re going to do. Let’s see how they vote on this initiative initiated by Senator Sullivan, because I think that is going to be the indicator of how serious they are to fulfill what they say is a promise that was made. Where’s the trust factor here? Where is the commitment to the working men and women of this country who have great opportunities, great jobs connected with infrastructure development, and the regulatory processes that hold them up from being able to provide for their families, cope with the high inflation that we see, and move forward to modernize our country?”
Capito said Democrats should push through any permitting reforms before they vote on the Inflation Reduction Act, and they should release the full text of those permitting revisions.
Sullivan and Capito both said they have talked with Manchin and other Democrats on the CRA, but none have yet given any commitment of support.
“Show us your commitment and how serious you are (with permitting reform) with a yes vote on the CRA,” Sullivan said.
Capito and Manchin have been in lockstep on getting the MVP, a 303-mile, 42-inch-diameter natural gas pipeline that runs from north-central West Virginia to Chatham, Va., completed as the permitting process and related litigation has stalled it for several years.
Manchin said the agreement he has on the permitting changes could see the pipeline “quickly completed.”
Capito said Tuesday she wants the MVP moving natural gas as well, but right now there are “too many questions” about the Democrats’ regulatory reform agreement.