Controversy over adding language to overhaul permitting of federal energy projects to must-pass spending legislation likely will take a back seat to keeping the government running after Sept. 30, people on and off Capitol Hill said.
No one wins in a government shutdown, said Bill Hoagland, senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former long-time Senate budget and appropriations aide to Republicans. The November midterm elections loom close and contentious, particularly in the House, and lawmakers won’t want to waste valuable time fighting in Washington over reopening the government after the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1, he said.
“House members want to get back on the campaign trail as quickly as possible,” Hoagland said in a recent interview.
Progressive Democrats and climate activists have been reeling from news of a side-deal that leadership brokered with
The permitting language could hitch a ride on a continuing resolution, forcing a tough vote for lawmakers of both parties who want a “clean” CR.
Many Democrats and environmental groups worry the proposed changes to the permitting process will undercut environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act and short-circuit a system designed to protect vulnerable communities from pollution. Republicans, while generally supporting streamlining federal permitting, aren’t keen on using appropriations legislation for horse-trading that benefits Manchin.
Manchin’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on the deal, or progressive Democrats’ criticisms.
Environment and Public Works Chairman
House Natural Resources Chairman
If the permitting changes are included in a CR, Grijalva said he suspects that “most people would have to vote for it because they don’t want the responsibility of closing the government. I understand that.” Grijalva said if the votes aren’t separated, it “complicates” his vote, though he wouldn’t say what he’d do. “We’ll face that crucible down the road.”
Still, Grijalva and fellow progressive Democrats insist consideration of any federal permitting changes should be in a stand-alone bill, and not tied to must-pass legislation.
“This backroom deal exaltation of Joe Manchin, as if he is his own branch of government, doesn’t work for most of us,” said Rep.
Hoagland said that if Democratic leaders expect the permitting measures to seriously endanger a government funding bill, they might do a short-term CR without unrelated provisions that runs until after the midterms, to buy some more time to deal with both issues later this year.
The dynamics of separating the votes make it tricky to pass a permitting overhaul in either chamber — but not impossible, he said. A stand-alone bill on permitting would lose Democratic votes in the House and Senate but could gain Republican support.
Graves said it would be “impossible” for Democrats to achieve their objectives on emissions reductions under the current “regulatory quagmire.”
“You cannot reform or modernize the grid, you cannot build the extra electrical generation that is needed to charge EVs,” without a robust overhaul to the permitting and regulatory processes, Graves said.
Most Democrats haven’t come to that realization yet, but that it’s “absolutely inevitable,” he said.
A real overhaul of permitting is going to take more time and effort than the truncated congressional calendar offers for the rest of the year, said Alex Flint, executive director of Alliance for Market Solutions, a right-leaning group focused on reducing carbon pollution while growing the economy.
“We do not have experience in the last several decades with reforming the set of environmental laws that were enacted in the early 1970s,” said Flint, a former staff director of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “The committees of jurisdiction will need to build capacity to do that.”
‘Horrible Way to Govern’
Climate groups, including Food and Water Watch, have vociferously opposed the permitting overhaul agreement, calling it a sweetheart deal for the fossil fuel industry.
They protested outside of Democratic Senate Majority Leader
Jim Walsh, policy director at Food and Water Watch, and Food and Water Action, said his group has been talking to “dozens” of lawmakers’ offices every week about the potential permitting deal.
“The overwhelming concern is not only with the legislation, but also the way this is getting done,” he said, of the possibility of attaching it to a continuing resolution. “It’s a horrible way to govern to force members to take a vote on either shutting down government, or to erode” environmental standards.