More than 70 House Democrats told their party’s leadership on Friday that they oppose efforts to attach federal permitting reforms backed by Sen. Joe Manchin to must-pass government funding legislation, arguing the proposed changes would endanger the climate and frontline communities.
In a new letter signed by an ideologically diverse array of House Democrats—including members of both the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and the New Democrat Coalition—lawmakers warn that the “destructive provisions” negotiated behind closed doors by Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) “will allow polluting manufacturing and energy development projects to be rushed through before the families who are forced to live near them are even aware of the plans.”
“These permitting ‘reforms’ would weaken other important public health protections, including the Clean Water Act and more.”
“The proposed legislation would restrict public access to the courts to seek remedies against illegal project development; place arbitrary limits on the amount of time the public is given to comment on polluting projects; and curtail public input, environmental review, and government accountability,” the letter notes, emphasizing that a recently circulated legislative draft appears to bear the watermark of the American Petroleum Institute (API)—an indication of the fossil fuel industry’s influence over the permitting plan.
“The API plan would require a certain number of harmful fossil fuel projects to be designated as ‘projects of strategic national importance’ to receive priority federal support, assistance, and expedited environmental review,” warns the letter, which was led by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair emeritus of the CPC. “These permitting ‘reforms’ would weaken other important public health protections, including the Clean Water Act and more.”
The letter’s 72 signatories call on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to “ensure that these provisions are kept out of a continuing resolution or any other must-pass legislation this year.”
“We remain deeply concerned that these serious and detrimental permitting provisions will significantly and disproportionately impact low-income communities, Indigenous communities, and communities of color,” the lawmakers wrote. “The inclusion of these provisions in a continuing resolution, or any other must-pass legislation, would silence the voices of frontline and environmental justice communities by insulating them from scrutiny.”
Chair Grijalva’s letter is a remarkable show of strength and unity against a #DirtyDeal that sells our communities out. 72 members, including 10 (!) committee chairs, 27 CBC members, 15 CHC members, 13 New Dems, 19 members outside the CPC. I’m proud to be in this broad coalition. https://t.co/XGGGitBOMb
— Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (@RepRashida) September 9, 2022
The letter, which has been circulating among Democratic lawmakers in recent days, was released after Schumer made clear this week that he intends to move ahead with permitting reforms, which he negotiated with Manchin in a bid to win the fossil fuel industry ally’s support for the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
“Permitting reform is part of the IRA,” Schumer told reporters Wednesday. “We will get it done.”
Democratic leaders are expected to try to attach the permitting reforms to government funding legislation that must pass before the end of the month to avert a partial shutdown. The bill needs a majority vote in the House and at least 60 votes in the Senate.
But the growing revolt from progressive members of the Democratic caucus and other rank-and-file lawmakers could throw a wrench in the leadership’s—and Manchin’s—plans to ram the permitting reforms through as part of a broader package.
In a speech on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) blasted the permitting reforms as a “dirty side deal” that would worsen the climate emergency to pad the profits of oil and gas corporations.
Speaking to reporters following his speech, Sanders unequivocally said he would vote against a government funding package that includes permitting reforms aimed at fast-tracking fossil fuel projects such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
“Yes,” Sanders replied when asked whether he would vote no. “You’re talking about the future of the planet.”
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