Statement: New bill could expedite projects that would pollute America

Media Contacts
Matt Casale

Former Director, Environment Campaigns, PIRG

WASHINGTON – Sen. Joe Manchin (WV) proposed on Wednesday new legislation aimed at speeding up the permitting and construction of energy projects, including pipelines, mining and transmission lines. Key provisions of the bill:

  • Instruct federal agencies to regularly identify and propose new “categorical exclusions”– projects or project types that would no longer be subject to environmental and public review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
  • Instruct federal agencies to complete major project reviews within two years on average, and bar them from extending review more than one year beyond their original estimated completion time. The bill also would allow agencies to shorten public comment periods.
  • Restrict the timeline and scope of state reviews of Clean Water Act permits, to one year from the date the application was received for most projects, and bar consideration of air quality impacts. Air pollution can have a significant impact on waterways. For example, atmospheric nitrogen is a major source of nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay. High levels of nitrogen can lead to algal blooms, which starve waters of oxygen and results in fish die-offs.
  • Allow the federal government to permit some power transmission lines over the objection of states where the lines are located.
  • Require full authorization for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile pipeline running fracked gas through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. It has repeatedly polluted streams and violated the Clean Water Act in Virginia, requires clearing 4,856 acres of forest, and is expected to produce as much planet-warming pollution as 26 coal plants. The bill also bars judicial review of the project, which has faced numerous legal challenges.

Sens. Manchin and Schumer agreed to pass legislation to speed up permitting — which will eventually weaken environmental protections — in exchange for enacting the Inflation Reduction Act, which is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 via clean energy tax credits and other programs. However, dozens of members of Congress have come out in opposition to the permitting portion of the deal as more details have come to light.

Matt Casale, U.S. PIRG’s environment campaigns director, released the following statement:

“This bill assumes that building more infrastructure is the goal. It’s not. To ensure clean air, safe drinking water and to tackle climate warming emissions, we don’t just need more infrastructure, we need the right infrastructure.

“To protect the public interest, we need to look before we leap on major infrastructure projects. 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?

“It should be simple. When we’re proposing projects in people’s communities that will impact their health, environment and livelihoods, those people should have a seat at the table and a say in what gets built.” 

Lisa Frank, executive director of Environment America’s Washington Legislative Office, released the following statement:

“‘Move fast and break things’ was a questionable approach for a social media company, but it’s even more suspect when applied to projects that could irreversibly harm our environment. 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. 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

“At Environment America, we believe a clean environment is not a byproduct of American prosperity. 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.”