Green light for Joe Manchin’s favorite pipeline
In an unexpected development, the bill would approve all remaining permits to complete the stalled Mountain Valley Pipeline, an Appalachian natural gas project that has been a top priority for the West Virginia Sens. Joe Manchin AND Shelley Moore Understood.
Manchin had tried last year to get the permit approved in exchange for decisive support for Biden’s climate bill, only to see the GOP opposition scuttle his permit review legislation.
On Sunday evening, Manchin praised the language of the debt bill that would have greenlighted the project, saying that completing the pipeline would reduce energy costs for the United States and West Virginia. Neither side in the debt bill negotiations had disclosed Mountain Valley’s inclusion until the legislative text was released Sunday night.
“I am proud to have fought for this critical project and secured the bipartisan support necessary to bring it to the finish line,” Manchin said in a statement.
The Biden administration has also supported the project, arguing that it is necessary for US energy security.
But the move is sure to spark sharp complaints from environmental groups who have opposed its construction for years and have turned the pipeline into a symbol of their fight against fossil fuels. Protesters opposing Mountain Valley disrupted an appearance by Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm at the POLITICO Energy Summit earlier this month.
“President Biden made a colossal mistake in negotiating a deal that sacrifices the climate and working families,” Jean Su, director of the energy justice program at an environmental group called the Center for Biological Diversity, said Sunday evening.
But the energy permit rules would get only modest changes
As POLITICO reported prior to the bill’s publication, the text makes only modest updates to the environmental permitting rules that govern both fossil fuel and clean energy projects. That means major changes that members of both parties had been seeking will be left for Congress to craft some future legislation.
The agreement would set time limits of one to two years for certain types of environmental reviews of new projects and would allow developers to go to court if agencies miss deadlines.
Among other provisions, the bill also provides for the designation of a lead federal agency to conduct reviews for any particular project, an idea that has previously won favor with governments on both sides. It would allow companies to take a greater role in preparing their own environmental reviews, leaving the ultimate responsibility to the government.
However, the bill does not include major changes Republicans had been seeking, such as restrictions on the ability of opponents of the bill to sue.
« It’s minimal, but the legal limits of one and two years … are nothing, » Sen. said. Kevin Cramer (RN.D.), a former utility regulator active on permitting issues, told POLITICO in a text message. « Of course there is also the hope of continuing the effort with momentum. »
Such a « score clock, » or deadline, has been on the oil industry’s wish list for years.A 2020 White House report found that the average overhaul has taken more than four years to complete as of 2018, although it can be much longer for some projects.
Renewable energy trade groups, meanwhile, too broadly support the changes which would set “reasonable” deadlines for environmental assessments. Wind and solar projects are both experiencing meteoric growth, but allowing revisions can block them late.
Both Republicans and the White House claimed victory. The Biden administration has touted its ability to avoid last year’s gutting of the climate law, though the legislation has never been seen as seriously under threat.
The IRS cuts are steeper than some expected
Biden agreed to cut $21.4 billion from one of his signature hits: an $80 billion increase in Internal Revenue Service funding that Democrats had pushed through last year.
That’s a bigger cut than many previous news reports that described the deal predicted.
While debt legislation requires only an immediate $1.4 billion release, the administration says it has agreed to take another $10 billion this fall to support other discretionary non-defense spending in annual appropriations bills.
And he says he will do it again next year, when lawmakers tackle fiscal year 2025 funding, subtracting another $10 billion from that $80 billion and using it for other national programs.
« Pay-as-you-go » limits on enforcement actions, unless the administration waives them
The text of the bill applies Congress’s « pay as you go » rule — which requires new spending to be offset by savings elsewhere — to executive actions. This would mean that presidential actions such as student loan forgiveness could require huge compensation. Such restrictions, warned a Democrat before the text was published, « could be disastrous. »
But the text said the White House Office of Management and Budget could waive the requirements if « necessary for the delivery of essential services » or « necessary for effective program delivery. » And it would protect the OMB’s handling of the provision from lawsuits, stating, « No determination, finding, act or omission under this title shall be subject to judicial review. »
The provision would expire at the end of 2024.
The impact of the new SNAP restrictions on low-income individuals becomes clearer
While not exactly a surprise, the piece of legislation clarifies what both sides revealed last Saturday: The bill would tighten restrictions on the country’s main anti-hunger program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, by expanding the number of people who they should work receive food aid.
Under current law, adults age 49 and younger who do not have children must meet work requirements to continue receiving SNAP benefits after a certain period of time. The new deal would gradually raise that age limit to 54, though the expanded limits would drop in 2030.
According to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office in April, about 275,000 low-income Americans are at risk of losing SNAP benefits because of the changes.
And that’s unacceptable, progressives said Sunday, despite the White House’s assurance that it won new exemptions by waiving job requirements for all homeless and veterans for the first time.
The White House argues that as a result of these new waivers, the total number of people covered by SNAP is unlikely to change under the agreement.
Even so, the policy “will increase hunger and poverty among [hundreds of thousands of older, low-income Americans], goes against our nation’s values and should be rejected,” the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said Sunday. The think tank added that « improvements for some do not justify extending a failed policy that will widen and deepen poverty to others. »
Biden dismissed the criticism Sunday night. When asked about some Hill Democrats’ concerns that the deal would cause low-income Americans to go hungry, the president said it was a « ludicrous claim. »
Biden must resume collecting student loans, charging interest
The deal would force the administration to resume collecting federal student loan payments and interest for millions of Americans after Aug. 30, ending a payment suspension that had come into being in response to the pandemic.
The Biden administration has repeatedly announced the end of the hiatus, only to extend it again, to the frustration of Republicans. But that path would be out of the question under the debt ceiling deal.
But the bill doesn’t specify exactly how or when the Department of Education should resume collecting payments. That means the administration could move forward with its plan to give borrowers some kind of grace period or more flexibility with payments when collections restart.
White House officials believe the deal codifies into law what the administration already planned to do, which is to resume collecting payments in September.
« Despite Republican efforts to end targeted student debt relief and advance the planned end of the payment suspension, we will ensure a smooth return to the repayment process, » Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said. said on Twitter Sunday.
Cardona added that « the agreement also protects our ability to suspend student loan payments should it become necessary in future emergencies. » Republicans had been pushing to permanently reduce the Department of Education’s power to cancel or modify student loans.
McCarthy hailed the elimination of the student loan break as a « victory ». In an interview with Fox News, he noted that the hiatus is costing the government about $5 billion a month in lost revenue.
But the deal wouldn’t affect Biden’s separate plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student debt per borrower, something many Republicans had been trying to repeal as part of the debt ceiling negotiations. That plan remains in limbo with the Supreme Court, which is expected to decide in the coming weeks whether it can proceed.
Josh Siegel, Brian Faler, Michael Stratford and Meredith Lee Hill contributed to this report.