The US Senate June 1 approved legislation to raise the US debt ceiling, in a step likely to allow the 304-mile, 2 Bcf/d Mountain Valley Pipeline to advance to completion.
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The bill, dubbed the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, would raise the US debt ceiling through early 2025 and cap non-defense federal spending across the next two fiscal years.
Approved by a 63-36 vote in the Senate, the bill includes a measure declaring permits for the stalled Mountain Valley gas project to be approved and calls for the US Army Corps of Engineers to issue a water crossing permit in 21 days, while largely barring judicial review of the pipeline's permits.
The debt legislation also includes a set of provisions meant to smooth energy infrastructure permitting. It now heads to President Joe Biden for his signature, which is expected shortly.
Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat-Virginia, tried to attach an amendment on the floor stripping out the Mountain Valley provision, drawing support from some 170 environmental groups including the League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club.
But the Senate voted to defeat the Kaine amendment by a vote of 30-69 June 1.
The pipeline, running through West Virginia and Virginia, would connect Appalachian Shale gas to downstream markets, creating an outlet for more production. It has been delayed for years, after the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit repeatedly agreed with environmentalist petitioners that federal permits and authorizations fell short.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Kaine said the Mountain Valley pipeline would run about 110 miles through the poorest part of his state, in Appalachia, where he said landowners who will not benefit from the gas deserve a fair process.
He argued that the bill would counter the approach that Congress carefully created to place pipeline routing in the hands of professional administrative agencies, buffered from political influence.
"If you were to let Congress do pipeline deals, it would be pretty easy for somebody to look at a map and say, 'well, this county never voted for me, why don't we run it through that county and take their land instead?'" he said.
Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat-West Virginia, made the case on the floor that the pipeline has already had over eight years of federal agency reviews, starting under the Obama administration, and that it would directly or indirectly serve areas in need of the gas resources, including military bases in North and South Carolina.
He said Duke Energy is also counting on the gas from the pipeline, since the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, also stymied by court challenges, has been canceled.
"Your hard-working people in southwest Virginia, just like all of West Virginia, they cannot attract and be able to furnish the energy [needed] to attract the different industries that would like to come for economic development," Manchin said.
Mountain Valley has been seeking to bring the pipeline into service by the end of 2023.
Collin Rees, US program co-manager at Oil Change International, said the opposition to the pipeline is far from done, with legal angles still to be explored.
"There will be a large rally in DC next week opposing the pipeline, and frontline communities will continue to resist in Virginia and Washington," he said, following the vote on Kaine's amendment.
The legislation sought to head off further legal appeals of the Mountain Valley permits, though it allowed for challenges to the new provision in the bill in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Environmentalist petitioners have considered a separation of powers challenge as one possibility.