- The Washington Times - Friday, August 19, 2022

House Democrats are warning Sen. Joe Manchin III that they won’t honor the deal he made with party leaders to secure his vote on President Biden’s massive spending and tax law.

They plan to break the promises Mr. Biden and Congress’ Democratic leaders made to Mr. Manchin, a conservative West Virginia Democrat, to cut bureaucratic red tape to speed up the permitting process for energy projects of all forms. That promise secured the crucial support from Mr. Manchin needed to pass a $773 billion law for climate change, health care and tax hikes.

Now that Mr. Manchin held up his end of the deal, progressive Democrats in the House say they owe him nothing because they were shut out of the deal-making process, and streamlining energy projects would undercut their newly enacted climate spending law.

“We sure as hell don’t owe Joe Manchin anything now,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Michigan Democrat, told the left-leaning news outlet The American Prospect.

Rep. Jared Huffman, California Democrat and leading climate advocate, told Politico he refuses to be “steamrolled into a bunch of fossil fuel giveaways just because Manchin cut a deal in a closed room with Chuck Schumer.”

“Democrats don’t owe anybody anything in return for passing the bill,” House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raul M. Grijalva, Arizona Democrat, wrote in a Newsweek op-ed.

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When asked for comment, Mr. Manchin’s office pointed to a joint statement from last month in which he and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said they were committed to getting permitting reform done by the end of September.

In exchange for providing the pivotal vote to pass the Democrats’ climate spending law, which included $370 billion in green initiatives, Mr. Manchin also secured a bevy of energy plums that the fossil fuel industry and Republicans have long wanted.

The Biden administration was supposed to reverse course to offer more oil and natural gas lease sales on federal land and water, and boost domestic energy production of all forms.

The separate permitting deal includes finishing the $6.6 billion Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline in West Virginia, time limits for permit reviews, a statute of limitations for court challenges and energy projects that the administration will fast-track. No official bill text has been released.

Although permit reform would benefit clean energy, Democrats and environmentalists worry it would promote oil and natural gas for decades to come, undermining their efforts to slash emissions.

“Calling on us to support more big wins for Big Oil, at the expense of families living in Flint, Michigan, or Cancer Alley, Louisiana, is indefensible,” Mr. Grijalva wrote.

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To stave off defectors, Democratic leadership wants to tie permit reform legislation to must-pass government funding needed to avoid a shutdown at the end of September.

Progressives want a standalone vote on Mr. Manchin‘s energy wish list so that it’s easier to bat down.

Don’t expect too much help from Republicans on the funding bill or a stopgap measure, known as a continuing resolution, to forestall a shutdown.

“I will not vote for a continuing resolution that is part of a political payback scheme,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said recently.

Democrats and environmentalists remain sour about the side deal between Mr. Manchin and Mr. Schumer. They say they are not beholden to a secret handshake benefiting Big Oil that they were excluded from, even if that was the price of securing historic climate action.

Manchin — who has taken more money from the fossil fuel industry than anyone else in DC — essentially held a gun to the head of negotiators: give me my pipeline or these people perish,” environmentalist Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, wrote in a blog post. “I’ve watched enough hostage dramas on tv to know that the guy with the bullhorn promises what he needs in order to bring the crime to an end, but then feels no moral need to actually produce the helicopter.”

Successful passage of a permit overhaul before the midterms — let alone by the end of September — appears unlikely.

After the November election, however, anything is possible, said Frank Maisano, a partner at the Washington-based law firm Bracewell who works with both fossil fuel and clean energy industries.

“Strange things happen in lame duck sessions, including people [voting with] the other party,” he said. “There will be lots of hand-wringing and accusations before that.”

• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at rtouchberry@washingtontimes.com.

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