Moderate reform ideas to expedite permitting of oil and gas infrastructure appear close to dying in December. The reforms were negotiated by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and leading Democrats over more than half a year in return for Manchin’s support of a big tax and spending bill in August.
Manchin was hoping to see his proposals added to a “must pass” bill in December, and Democratic leadership agreed to try. One such bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 7776), is now nearing completion, and the senator’s infrastructure proposals are being left out.
The defense bill emerged Dec. 6 from House and Senate committees with bipartisan support. Democrats and Republicans alike hailed it as a good compromise.
Manchin put out a statement lamenting the exclusion of his infrastructure reforms from the defense bill, then he made a last-ditch appeal to colleagues Dec. 7 to amend the bill. He released an amendment package with revised language for his proposals, which were tweaked to give them a little more significance—somewhat stricter deadlines for regulators, for example.
The amendments would accelerate permitting without bypassing environmental reviews, said his package of amendment documents. His proposals would smooth permitting for oil and gas pipelines and most especially would help the long-stalled Mountain Valley Pipeline, a natural gas line originating in West Virginia. Litigation may yet determine the fate of that line.
A troubled deal
Manchin achieved some of his goals in the tax and spending bill passed in August under the name Inflation Reduction Act. Among other things, that law forced the Interior Department to go ahead with offshore oil and gas lease sales that had been blocked by the Biden administration. Resumption of scheduling for those sales got on track in September (OGJ Online, Sept. 23, 2022).
But it was also in September that an attempt to attach Manchin’s reforms to an appropriations bill failed. Top Democrats had promised Manchin they would try to push his proposals forward in September, and when that the opposition grew too strong, they said they would try again before yearend (OGJ Online, Sept. 27, 2022).
An appropriations bill is the other remaining “must pass” legislation for the year, and leaders in both parties expressed hope Dec. 6 and 7 for quick bipartisan action. It is needed as the final spending bill for fiscal year 2023, although Congress can offer a temporary substitute to kick the completion of the work into January.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) referred to Manchin’s proposals Dec. 6 as far too weak, “reform in name only” (OGJ Online, Sept. 22, 2022). McConnell’s remark was an indicator of the likely fate of any attempt to add the infrastructure proposals to the remaining appropriations bill.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and a strong opponent of Manchin’s proposals, treated the exclusion of the reforms from the defense bill as the final act.
“House Democrats can now close out the year having made historic progress on climate change without this ugly asterisk,” Grijalva said.
His reference to climate change was a reminder that Manchin, in order to win the resumption of offshore leasing and the promise of reform efforts, also agreed to a variety of increases in oil and gas regulatory obligations. Those changes included increased royalties and fees on federal lands and the channeling of billions of dollars in taxpayer support to alternative energies, notably support for wind and solar power and electric vehicles.