Sen. Joe Manchin III is negotiating in Congress to pass an energy permitting reform bill before the end of the year after Democrats reneged on a promise to approve the legislation in September.
The West Virginia Democrat said he’s in talks with lawmakers about adding the reform language to the must-pass 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy and spending levels for the Pentagon.
The measure would benefit Mr. Manchin politically by fast-tracking the completion of a pipeline that runs through his state, and the move to get it passed in the lame-duck session is backed by President Biden.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the defense bill “should include Sen. Manchin’s permitting bill.”
Mr. Manchin is looking for a last-ditch route to passage after Democratic leaders failed to advance the legislation in September, despite promising him they would get it across the finish line as a payback for his crucial vote to pass Mr. Biden’s bill that raises taxes and spends on climate change efforts.
His efforts to shoehorn the language into the defense bill comes as Republicans begin mounting an effort to unseat him when he’s up for reelection in 2024.
Mr. Manchin, 75, signaled recently to donors that he’s running for a third term, but he is considered vulnerable in the deep-red state, particularly after helping Democrats pass a major green energy and tax increase bill earlier this year.
Republican Rep. Alex Mooney, 52, who represents the Mountain State’s 2nd Congressional District, announced last week that he will challenge Mr. Manchin in 2024.
He accused Mr. Manchin of “enabling Joe Biden and the left-wing agenda.”
Mr. Manchin’s political prospects could improve by getting the energy permitting bill passed, but the path to Mr. Biden’s desk this year may be difficult.
And with the House GOP slated to take the majority, it will become even harder to accomplish in the new year. Republicans will likely demand far more aggressive provisions to jump-start U.S. energy production than those included in the Manchin bill.
He also faces resistance from liberal lawmakers who dislike the pro-fossil fuel provisions in the bill.
Manchin spokesman Sam Ryun said the senator “continues to look for a path forward to pass comprehensive permitting reform.”
The bill would prioritize the completion of West Virginia’s Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline, which has been hobbled by legal challenges from environmental groups.
Environmental groups are pressuring Congress to resist Mr. Manchin’s latest efforts to speed it up this year through energy permitting reform.
Some Republicans are working with Mr. Manchin to try to move the legislation now, including Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska.
Others in the GOP aren’t eager to help Mr. Manchin after he provided the critical vote Democrats needed to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, a bill that raised taxes to pay for green energy projects that the GOP unanimously opposed.
Mr. Manchin voted for the bill after announcing publicly he would oppose it. Republicans said Mr. Manchin deceived them into helping Democrats pass separate legislation to boost U.S. computer chip manufacturing.
Some Republicans say the Manchin legislation does not include enough permitting reforms to adequately speed up fossil fuel production now stymied by regulations and lawsuits.
Both parties, however, are seeking to overhaul the permitting process, which has slowed both green energy and fossil fuel projects.
Democrats want to speed up clean energy projects, which Mr. Biden said last month are hobbled by a cumbersome and time-consuming federal approval process.
“So, I’m asking the Congress, pass a permitting bill to speed up the approval of all kinds of energy production from wind, to solar, to clean hydrogen,” Mr. Biden said. “Because we need to get this moving now, quickly — now.”