The recent drama related to the U.S. debt ceiling may have illustrated the chaos that polarization has brought to Washington, but it showed one other thing as well: there’s an appetite for federal permitting reform from Democrats and Republicans alike. The Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA), signed into law Saturday by President Biden, addressed some immediate priorities — including changes to the review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) — but its mandate to expedite completion of the long-delayed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) caught many of the project’s supporters and critics by surprise. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the permitting issues that have kept MVP in regulatory limbo and how the FRA is designed to overcome them and bring the project back to life.
Concerns about energy infrastructure permitting have pervaded public policy for at least a decade, on both sides of the political aisle. On one side, concern over things like new power transmission for renewable energy sources has been dominant, while on the other side concern over new natural gas pipeline infrastructure like MVP has been center stage. (For more, see our Don’t Pass Me By series.) The whole debate over permitting reached a fever pitch as both Congress and the Biden administration became deeply concerned over reliability and national security in our energy mix following events such as the Winter Storm Uri Texas blackout.
We have chronicled MVP’s long, long journey in the years since it was proposed (most recently in Will It Go In Circles). It received its certificate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2017 and construction began in early 2018. But as the project wandered through the permitting jungle (even after a FERC certificate is issued, a project has to get permits at the state level, primarily water permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the federal level, but with a state ability to obstruct them), we saw permit by permit issued, only to be yanked away by a U.S. Court of Appeals reversal after being challenged by environmental groups (which is somewhat ironic given the net emissions benefits of the pipeline, as we discussed in Ghosts of Pipelines Past and Future). But just as MVP was once again testing its sponsors’ resolve by having yet another permit reversed, along came the debt-limit crisis. As anyone with access to any news at all knows, we went through the periodic mud fight of trying to integrate U.S. budgetary policy with the basic act of preventing a default on debt we have already incurred. If we hadn’t been through this process before, it would have been pretty scary — in fact, this time it was pretty scary, given the polarization in our government at the moment.
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