Debt Ceiling Agreement Includes Mountain Valley Pipeline, Environment Rules Concessions

by | May 31, 2023

West Virginia Mountains in the Fall

(Credit: Canva Pro)

In a decision with wide-ranging implications for the environment and energy sector President Biden and U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy have agreed fast-track the contentious Mountain Valley Pipeline and curtail environmental reviews of major U.S. energy projects as part of their agreement to raise the federal borrowing limit.

The compromise will allow the issuance of all necessary permits to speed up the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile natural gas pipeline weaving through West Virginia and Virginia. The pipeline’s progress has been impeded by court challenges but is heavily supported by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin.

The bill also accelerates and limits federal reviews of significant projects like pipelines, dams, and electric transmission lines nationwide under the National Environmental Policy Act. This 1969 legislation would be amended to require the federal government to complete most environmental impact statements within two years and restrict them to 150 pages or less.

Biden expressed optimism about the legislation saying, “It’s a really important step forward and it takes the threat of catastrophic default off the table.”

The proposed pipeline, expected to cost $6.6 billion, would transport over two billion cubic feet of natural gas annually. This gas, produced by hydraulic fracturing in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, would be delivered to markets in eastern Virginia and other coastal Atlantic states.

The contentious pipeline’s path would cross more than 1,100 streams and rivers through three states and disrupt more than 27 acres of wetlands during construction, with nearly nine acres being permanently destroyed. The debate reflects the uncertain political middle ground between energy transitions, environmental preservation, and economic considerations.

Since its approval in 2017, the Mountain Valley Pipeline has faced numerous lawsuits and court decisions and is embroiled in 139 state stormwater permit violations and multiple state water quality standards violations.

Legislation Still Faces Challenges

The fate of the proposed legislation is uncertain in both the House and Senate. Some Democrats and environmental groups are opposing a pipeline project that could contribute to environmental impacts in the region, according to reports. However, Manchin lauded the deal, highlighting the potential value of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in bolstering domestic energy production and reducing costs, especially in his state of West Virginia.

Several environmental groups such as Appalachian Voices and the Center for Biological Diversity have voiced their stern opposition to the bill, according to Oil & Gas Watch,  calling for Congress to pass a clean debt ceiling bill free from environmental law amendments and fossil fuel industry concessions.

The energy concessions on the debt ceiling agreement are just one of many tussles in the area that have happened in Congress during the Biden Administration. They include the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the failed Build Back Better Act.

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