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Manchin votes with GOP to cancel Biden environmental permitting rule


AUGUST 4, 2022

The Senate passed a resolution Thursday canceling a Biden administration rule governing environmental reviews for infrastructure projects that Republicans have argued made permitting more onerous, holding up construction.

All 49 Republicans present, and the lone Democratic vote of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), were enough to pass the Congressional Review Act joint resolution of disapproval, which would strike down a rule governing implementation of the National Environmental Policy Review Act. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), who introduced the resolution, and other Republican supporters argued the NEPA rule makes the review and permitting of infrastructure projects more difficult.

The rule in question was finalized by the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality in April and rolled back Trump-era reforms to the NEPA implementation process, including the condition that agencies overseeing environmental reviews limit their scope to “reasonably foreseeable” impacts of a given action.

The Biden rule instead directed agencies to consider the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts, with the intent being to quantify how a project could contribute to climate change.

In order for the joint resolution to take effect, the House of Representatives would also need to pass the resolution, and President Joe Biden would have to give it his signature, which is unlikely.

Sullivan framed the vote as a choice between laborers who build projects, such as highways and pipelines, and liberal interest groups seeking to stop projects. He said the rule “invites and incentivizes delay and litigation” and runs contrary to the new bipartisan infrastructure law, which allocated tens of billions of dollars for new infrastructure and included multiple permitting reforms.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, expressed his opposition to the resolution ahead of the vote. Blocking the Biden rule, Carper said, is the “policy equivalent to burying our heads in the sand” about climate change and the environmental impact that a given project might have.

“Refusing to consider the impact of climate change will not stop the climate from changing,” he said.

Carper also criticized the Trump-era NEPA reforms, although a few of them were carried over and passed by Congress in the new infrastructure law, including one provision that sets a goal of two years for agencies to complete environmental reviews of major infrastructure projects.

The showdown coincides with Democrats finalizing negotiations over a tax and spending package that would devote hundreds of billions of dollars to green energy.

In separate legislation, Democrats will take up comprehensive permitting reform, according to an agreement between Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

Courtesy/Source: Washington Examiner