RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-A deal struck by top Democrats in Congress could pave the way for the completion of a long-contested gas pipeline that cuts through Virginia.
Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-WV) recently reached a surprise agreement with Democratic leadership to secure his swing vote on funding to fight climate change–a component of what’s being called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
In a joint statement with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Manchin connected the deal to an agreement with President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “to pass comprehensive permitting reform legislation before the end of this fiscal year.”
“We urge every member of the U.S. Senate to support this important legislation,” the statement continued.
A document outlining the energy permitting agreement said relevant federal agencies would be required to “take all necessary actions to permit the construction and operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and give the DC Circuit jurisdiction over any future litigation.”
The federal appeals court in Richmond has shot down key permits in the past. Stakeholders believe switching to the DC Circuit could lower legal barriers.
Appalachian Voices Virginia Field Coordinator Jessica Sims said, while the language of the bill isn’t available yet, they have major concerns. She said the project has already been a disaster for water quality and it would be a “climate disaster” in the future if the pipeline becomes operational.
“We are opposed to anything that would negatively impact the safeguards that we have for environmental review and anything that would sacrifice communities as part of a political bargain,” Sims said.
On Wednesday, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) told reporters that he is“very excited” about the Inflation Reduction Act, which he said would be “transformative in advancing a clean energy economy.”
Asked about Manchin’s deal addressing the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Kaine said it’s too soon to take a stance.
“There is no connection between voting on the Inflation Reduction Act and then having to vote for the Mountain Valley Pipeline or a permitting bill. The deal was, in exchange for getting an agreement on the Inflation Reduction Act, we will have the opportunity to debate and vote on permitting improvement,” Kaine said. “No one has made commitments about how they’re going to vote and I’m certainly not going to make a commitment until I see what that bill is.”
That said, Kaine does believe the current federal permitting process through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has been “shoddy” and “inadequate,” stoking many of the controversies surrounding pipeline projects.
“In particular, the unwillingness or inability of FERC to get information out to the public and appropriately take public comment and then take that into account in terms of deciding whether a pipeline was necessary and whether the proposed route was the right route,” Kaine said.
A FERC public comment session on the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s request for a four-year permit extension to complete construction just wrapped up.
Governor Glenn Youngkin was among the supporters.
In a letter, Youngkin argued the completion of the project was necessary to protect access to affordable energy, advance economic development and navigate uncertainty on Virginia’s path to a carbon-free electricity supply by 2045.
“The Mountain Valley Pipeline will connect Virginia to a new supply of energy that will provide much-needed diversity and reliability in the face of rising energy constraints,” Youngkin wrote. “If the Project permit is allowed to expire prior to its completion, the ability of Virginia’s natural gas and electricity utilities to keep energy prices low and secure a reliable supply of energy would be jeopardized.”
Meanwhile, coalitions of 27 state lawmakers and 270 organizations opposed the extension.
The letter sent by members of the General Assembly cites 300 environmental protection violations identified by inspectors throughout 2018 and the pipeline’s failure to comply with existing permit conditions, resulting in over $2 million in penalties in Virginia.
“Denial is requested owing to the impacts to the environment and communities along the route, the continued lack of necessity for the project, and the project’s multiple missing federal authorizations,” the lawmakers wrote. “For years, we have heard from residents and constituents about the real and significant harm the MVP has inflicted on their local streams and rivers, property, drinking water, and quality of life.”
The Mountain Valley Pipeline was originally expected to be completed by the end of 2018.
A spokesperson for Equitrans Midstream Corp., the lead partner on the project, said in an email that the pipeline is currently 94 percent complete and they hope to bring it into service in the second half of 2023.
“Increased use of natural gas has played an important role in our country’s efforts to lower carbon emissions and keep energy prices affordable,” the statement continued. “More than 300,000 miles of interstate and intrastate natural gas transmission pipelines operate every day across the U.S., safely and reliably transporting natural gas for use in homes and businesses to power modern life.”