Analysis by Energy Workforce SVP Government Affairs & Counsel Tim Tarpley
Sen. Joe Manchin’s last-ditch effort to save his signature permitting reform package ultimately failed this week after he asked Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to pull the legislation from the continuing resolution Tuesday night.
In addition to including a provision to permit the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is critical to Sen. Manchin, the bill included many provisions which have long been sought after by both Republicans and Democrats to speed up energy infrastructure projects in the United States. The bill set a two-year target for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews for major energy and natural resource projects, which require a full environmental impact statement and reviews from more than one federal agency, as well as a one-year target for projects which require an environmental assessment. Proponents of the bill argued this would help ease the five-year or more timeline that many large infrastructure projects have been facing within the United States.
With the aim to end the back and forth of a project between multiple federal agencies, the bill would have designated a lead agency to coordinate project reviews and expanded the use of shared interagency environmental review documents and concurrent agency reviews. On the legal side, the legislation would have set a 150-day statute of limitations for court challenges, require random assignment of judges to cases, and require courts to set and enforce reasonable schedule (of no more than 180 days) for agencies to act on remanded or vacated permits.
The future of the package is unclear. There are still at least two “must pass” bills for Congress this session, one being the National Defense Authorization Act later in October. It’s possible there may be an effort to make changes to the package and attempt to pass it at that point. However, Republican support, which ultimately will be necessary this Congress, may never materialize. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito has a similar package drafted, and Republicans in the Senate seem to think they may have a shot of getting that package through the next Congress should control flip after the midterm elections in November.
Ultimately, permitting reform remains a priority for many in Congress, so there is hope some bipartisan agreement can be reached. On average, a major infrastructure project in the United States takes two to three times longer to get permitted than in similar countries, such as Canada and Australia.
If you would like to get involved with Energy Workforce advocacy efforts or the Government Affairs Committee, contact SVP Government Affairs Tim Tarpley.
Tim Tarpley, SVP Government Affairs & Counsel, analyzes federal policy for the Energy Workforce & Technology Council. Click here to subscribe to the Energy Workforce newsletter, which highlights sector-specific issues, best practices, activities and more.