Some Republicans are expressing hostility to Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) campaign to use a government funding bill to advance permitting reform, adding to doubts about the effort’s future.
Republicans have long lamented the length of time it takes to advance fossil fuel and other energy projects. And Manchin’s efforts could be the best shot they’ve had in years to speed up the environmental review process for energy projects.
But Republicans are also upset over the party-line passage of the sweeping climate, tax and health care bill passed under budget reconciliation rules that sidestepped the filibuster — an effort made possible by Manchin.
And they have no interest in making things easier ahead of the midterms for fractious Democrats already struggling to unify behind the plan. Many liberals strongly oppose the Manchin permitting reform deal, and nearly 80 House Democrats have come out against the plan.
“If you’re now looking for Republicans to support and give you more cover than you have right now, you’re not going to find it with us,” Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), No. 3 Senate Republican, told reporters this week.
Manchin struck a deal to pass permitting reform with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) along with President Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last month, according to the senators. Schumer said the agreement was part of an overall deal to advance the climate, tax and health care bill formally titled the Inflation Reduction Act.
As part of the deal, Manchin and top Democrats agreed to advance permitting reform by Oct. 1, the start of fiscal 2023. They did not specifically name a vehicle, but a stopgap government funding bill is the only must-pass legislation on the docket before that date.
The permitting reforms, which are expected to include truncated environmental reviews in the process of planning energy projects, have turned off a large group of House Democrats and drawn swift backlash from hundreds of advocacy groups.
To pass the stopgap funding bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), senators would need at least 60 votes to bypass a filibuster.
Manchin has expressed hope that his proposal will attract sufficient GOP support to secure its passage, telling The Hill this week that the Senate is “going to have CR with permitting.”
But that increasingly looks like wishful thinking on the part of the West Virginia senator, as a number of Republicans say they want to go further
“So far what Joe’s put out is a one-page template — I haven’t seen anything else — and like I said, it’s not very ambitious in my view. It’s not enough for me to get to ‘yes,’ because frankly I don’t know why I would want to facilitate mediocrity,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a frequent ally of Manchin’s, also raised concerns about using government funding to pass such significant legislation.
“I think putting it on a CR is problematic. It’s a major policy issue,” Collins said Monday.
In the House, Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), head of the largest House conservative caucus, issued a memo questioning whether the Manchin deal will be right-wing enough to win Republican support this week.
“Republicans historically have strongly supported permitting reform, but the permitting reform text in the CR hasn’t been released and it may favor Green New Deal projects to appease Chairman Grijalva and the 70+ Democrats who’ve pledged to vote against it,” the memo said, referring to House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).
Senate Republicans have begun lining up behind a dueling, GOP-led permitting reform bill that they contend goes further than Manchin’s bill.
It is led by the other senator from West Virginia, Shelley Moore Capito (R), who said she offered the bill to get the party’s positions in public in the absence of legislative text from Manchin.
“These are our ideas,” she said, expressing frustration about the lack of specifics from Manchin.
Some lawmakers who backed this alternate proposal see it as a jumping-off point and may be willing to back some sort of compromise between it and Manchin’s.
“I’d be willing to start to negotiate with that,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), adding he’d have to see bill text before committing to pass anything.
If permitting reform isn’t included in a government funding bill, Manchin may not get his promise. That’s looking like a distinct possibility.
“It seems to me it’s a stretch to try to make that happen,” one GOP senator said when pressed on whether permitting reform would make a stopgap funding bill.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters on Tuesday that a lot of the GOP conference has doubts “any of this will ever get implemented.”
“We’ve seen permitting reforms that happened around the highway bill, infrastructure bill, and the administration just kind of swaps them off and ignores them,” Thune said. “So the question is, are their teeth in these reforms?”
Capito said she’d want any final legislation to include the approval of a natural gas pipeline that runs through West Virginia. The completion of that vessel, called the Mountain Valley Pipeline, is also included in Manchin’s summary.
Others, however, say that while they support the Capito proposal, they aren’t willing to compromise with Manchin and Democrats.
“I’m not really interested in meeting in the middle between Shelley’s bill and Joe’s bill. I’m supportive of Shelley’s bill,” Cramer said.