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Manchin proposes bill to weaken environmental protections, expedite projects

Mountain Valley PipelineThe proposed legislation would weaken the country’s environmental protections, according to a press release.

The bill instructs federal agencies to identify and propose “categorical exclusions,” projects that would no longer be subject to environmental and public review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), such as pipelines, mining and transmission lines.

Federal agencies would complete major project reviews only every two years and would be prohibited from extending review more than one year beyond the original estimated completion date. Agencies would also be permitted to shorten public comment periods on projects.

The timeline and scope of state reviews of Clean Water Act permits would be restricted to one year from the date of application received. Consideration of air quality impacts would be prohibited.

According to the press release, where transmission lines are located would be permitted over the objection of states.

The bill calls for full authorization of the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline running fracked gas through parts of West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

“Underlying this bill is an assumption that building more pipelines, mining more of our public lands and drilling more in our oceans is a national good, one we should seek to speed up as much as possible,” Environment America’s Washington Legislative Office Executive Director Lisa Frank said in the press release. “But when we’re developing two football fields worth of wild lands every minute, when we’re already suffering the impacts of climate change and when we waste so much of the energy we produce, faster is often not better. That’s certainly the case for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is wrecking forests and streams all for the sake of piping highly potent greenhouse gases into more communities, many in the state of Virginia, which committed to achieving 100 percent clean electricity by 2045.”

In exchange for enacting the Inflation Reduction Act, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, Manchin agreed to pass legislation to speed up permitting. According to the press release, dozens of members of Congress have come out in opposition to the permitting portion of the deal as more details have come to light.

“At Environment America, we believe a clean environment is not a byproduct of American prosperity,” Frank said. “Rather, a clean environment is the necessary precondition for true prosperity. Congress should reject this legislation weakening NEPA and instead work to strengthen our core environmental protections.”

Matt Casale, U.S. PIRG’s Environment Campaigns Director, said the bill assumes that infrastructure if the goal, but the country needs the right infrastructure, not just more infrastructure.

“To protect the public interest, we need to look before we leap on major infrastructure projects,” Casale said. “NEPA has long been the law that required us to look, and now is not the time to blindfold ourselves. Even worse, this bill puts a thumb on the scale in favor of fossil fuel projects. We’re already seeing some of the devastating impacts of climate change and we know that to avoid the worst, we need to phase out use of fossil fuels entirely. So why would we change the law to expedite them now?”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.