A deal struck by President Joe Biden and U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to raise the debt limit includes expedited approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
The text of proposed legislation resulting from the agreement to avert a default revealed Sunday evening includes a provision that would compel the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue all permits needed to finish construction of the pipeline within three weeks.
The deal, which requires congressional approval, would prohibit legal challenges of any federal or state agency authorization for construction and initial operation of the gas pipeline, which has faced many legal setbacks rooted in water pollution and erosion issues.
Courts have ruled federal and state agencies have been too hasty in issuing approvals for the project, given its adverse environmental effects.
The proposal, the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, drew the ire of environmentalists Sunday night. But the deal was hailed by West Virginia’s congressional delegates, who have been among the $6.6 billion project’s most vocal cheerleaders.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., mentioned McCarthy but not Biden in a statement saying he was “proud to have fought for this critical project.”
“I am pleased Speaker McCarthy and his leadership team see the tremendous value in completing the MVP to increase domestic energy production,” Manchin said.
Manchin announced agreeing to a sweeping climate and renewable energy spending package in July in exchange for expedited approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The climate package, the Inflation Reduction Act, was enacted in August, but efforts by Manchin and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., to fast-track approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline stalled last year.
Capito said she is “thrilled” that expedited completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is included in the deal seeking to avoid a national default.
“Despite delay after delay, we continued to fight to get this critical natural gas pipeline up and running, and its inclusion in this deal is a significant victory for the future of West Virginia,” Capito said in a statement.
“Finally, Republicans and Democrats are coming together to finish the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., said in a statement, predicting the finished project will create jobs, lower energy costs and protect the environment.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress it has to address the debt ceiling by June 5 or the nation won’t have enough funds to fully pay its obligations on time.
Environmentalists vehemently objected to the deal Sunday night, having fought the 303-mile project spanning 11 counties in the West Virginia before crossing into Virginia for years.
“Changes to environmental laws and favors to fossil fuel companies have no place in a bill to raise the debt ceiling,” Chelsea Barnes, government affairs and strategy director for Appalachian Voices, an environmental nonprofit, said in a statement.
The prohibition on judicial review of the project would cover all approvals before and after enactment of the proposed legislation.
Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC’s $6.6 billion project is awaiting new approvals from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The lead developer behind the project is Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based Equitrans Midstream Corp.
“By attempting to suspend the rules for a pipeline company that has repeatedly polluted communities’ water and flouted the conditions in its permits, the president and Congress would deny basic legal protections, procedural fairness, and environmental justice to communities along the pipeline’s path,” Peter Anderson, Virginia policy director with Appalachian Voices, said in a statement.
Jean Su, energy justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, a national nonprofit, urged Congress to reject the deal in a statement.
The debt limit deal doesn’t include provisions many Democrats have pushed for that would fast-track renewable energy deployment, and inclusion of expedited Mountain Valley Pipeline approval risks opposition from progressives.
Announced in 2014, the pipeline originally was scheduled for completion by the end of 2018 at a cost of $3.5 billion. Equitrans announced in May 2022 that the estimated cost had risen another $400 million to $6.6 billion. The company pushed back the targeted in-service date to the second half of 2023.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court has set back the project in key rulings siding with environmentalist opponents of the project.
The Fiscal Responsibility Act would give the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit jurisdiction over any claim challenging the legislation fast-tracking approval of the pipeline.
But that court also has taken a dim view of the environmental soundness of the project. On Friday, the court sent orders by the FERC allowing the project to proceed back to the agency to decide whether to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement or explain why it believes one isn’t needed.
The court said the FERC had insufficiently explained its decision not to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement addressing unexpectedly severe erosion and sedimentation along the pipeline’s right-of-way.
The FERC declined comment on the ruling Friday.