More than 70 House Democrats signed a letter opposing a major energy reform deal hashed out between Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
The lawmakers voiced concern over a deal cut between Manchin and Schumer as the top Senate Democrat sought his colleague’s vote on the sweeping Inflation Reduction Act, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden last month. In order to secure Manchin’s vote, Schumer agreed to introduce a separate bill concerning permitting reform – the process by which the federal government approves new energy projects, including those for oil and gas.
In the letter to House leadership, Democratic lawmakers argued that "attempts to short-circuit or undermine the law in the name of ‘reform’ must be opposed." They went on to allege that the legislation was borne out of the requests from the American Petroleum Institute and said the rushed process for new projects would not allow local residents enough time to become aware of the plans.
"The proposed legislation would restrict public access to the courts to seek remedies against illegal project development; place arbitrary limits on the amount of time the public is given to comment on polluting projects; and curtail public input, environmental review, and government accountability," the lawmakers also wrote.
Democrats opposed to the deal point to potential “long-term, environmental, and public health consequences” if the it was included in a Continuing Resolution, a short-term bill to fund the government, ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline.
"This is a deal that was cut by the Senate Leader with one senator, and it wasn't cut with all members of the Democratic caucus," Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told Spectrum News. "Our concern is that if we had our preference, we would like to keep environmental rules and regulations as strong as possible moving forward, and we'd rather not see this added to a [continuing resolution], or do something that's moving through Congress."
Sen. Manchin's team says the proposal could benefit renewable energy sources.
"We'd like to see the final language," Pocan said. "I think, at the end of the day, probably what's going to happen is, the real determinations will happen through the agencies and through the Biden administration, not necessarily through the language that Congress does in the next couple of weeks."
"No one wants to see a shutdown of the government," he added. "Clearly, this shouldn't be any reason to see that happen. At the same time. We don't want to just have to do something because there's a clock ticking."
With the deadline to avert the government looming, Senate Democratic leadership must decide what to include in the bill and what to omit in order to pass both their razor-thin House majority and evenly divided Senate.
"I'm guessing this will be a part of it," Pocan added. "But again, I think the Devil’s in the details, so to speak, and really, those details will be decided by the agency and by the Biden administration, and that's where we can best impact the change."
When asked if Democrats want to shut down the government and if they will pass whatever CR goes through, Pocan said: "I'm guessing what's going to happen is we're going to make sure that the details that are done by the Biden administration, by the agencies are what's going to protect the environment to the most degree that we can."
"We're still trying to ... make sure that we're protecting the environment," he continued. "That is our priority. But at the same time, I'm ultimately guessing that the regulations, as done by the administration are where we're going to see the real impact."
The Manchin-Schumer deal included incentives for one of Manchin’s projects: the Mountain Valley pipeline, a delayed natural gas pipeline that would cross through West Virginia and Virginia if completed.