The legislation would ramp up permitting for both renewables and fossil fuels.
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”
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Today's read: 12 minutes.
The controversial permitting reform bill. Plus, a question about how I start my day.
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- New satellite images show a line of cars and trucks more than 10 miles long of people trying to leave Russia and enter Georgia; some 200,000 Russians have crossed into neighboring countries since Vladimir Putin mobilized military reserves. (The fleeing)
- The Nord Stream pipelines that carry natural gas from Russia to Europe sprang three separate leaks, leading to suspicions of potential sabotage. (The pipelines)
- Jury Selection began in the trial of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes for his alleged role in storming the U.S. Capitol. Rhodes faces charges of seditious conspiracy for attempting to disrupt the transfer of presidential power. He and four other members face up to 20 years in prison. (The jury)
- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell supported the Senate’s bill to reform the Electoral Count Act (which we covered here), significantly increasing the odds the bill becomes law. (The support)
- A legal group has sued the Biden administration in order to block its plan to forgive as much as $20,000 of student loan debt for individual borrowers. (The lawsuit)
- WEATHER WATCH: Hurricane Ian is predicted to make landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, and will hit Florida between Tampa Bay and Naples this evening. Current forecasts are calling for sustained winds as high as 130 miles per hour. (The storm)
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Manchin's permitting bill. Last week, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) released the long awaited text of legislation that would speed up the nation's permitting process for energy infrastructure, including both fossil fuel projects and clean energy projects tied to President Biden's climate change bill.
The legislation has been named the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022. In order to get Manchin's support for the Inflation Reduction Act, President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to pass the proposal before the text was released as part of a government funding bill. That stopgap funding bill needed to be passed by Friday night, or the government would have shut down.
However, ahead of a vote to advance the legislation on Tuesday night, Schumer announced he was removing Manchin's legislation from the funding bill, apparently believing it did not have the 60 votes necessary to overcome the filibuster. That means the government should stay open, but it puts Manchin's legislation in doubt.
Last week, Manchin released the 91-page bill and an eight page summary of what's inside. He also published an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal (cited below) making the case for the bill. Here are some key components:
- For projects that require environmental review, a two-year time limit for those reviews to be completed.
- A 150 day statute of limitations for court challenges to projects that includes random assignment of judges to cases.
- Requires the president to create a rolling list of "important energy and mineral projects," including a minimum number of fossil fuel, non-fossil fuel, carbon capture and hydrogen projects.
- Gives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) jurisdiction to regulate interstate hydrogen infrastructure.
- Requires federal agencies to issue all approval and permits necessary for the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline to transport natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia.
For various reasons, many Republicans and a growing group of Democrats have spoken out against the legislation. It was apparently divisive enough that Schumer, Manchin and Biden didn't believe they could get to 60 votes in the Senate, and decided to remove it from the stopgap funding bill.
Today, we'll take a look at some arguments from the left and right about what comes next, then my take.
What the left is saying.
- The left is divided about the legislation; some support it, while others worry about the process and its environmental impacts.
- Some argue we need to fast track energy permits in order to ramp up clean energy.
- Others say the process of writing the bill was shady and is being run by politicians funded by fossil fuel interests.
The Washington Post editorial board said passing Manchin's legislation should not be controversial.
"There should be no controversy: Including Mr. Manchin’s bill would improve the package. This is true even — or especially — if one’s primary concern is climate change," the board said. "Mr. Manchin’s bill has stoked controversy because it contains a sweetheart provision that would benefit a West Virginia pipeline project that Mr. Manchin wants to get through. But that is not even close to the legislation’s most consequential element; the fact that the bill would ease construction of power lines is. The nation needs to build a lot of new infrastructure if it is to transition rapidly off greenhouse-gas-heavy fossil fuels and onto renewables. Aside from more solar panels and wind turbines, perhaps the greatest need is transmission — big wires that transport large amounts of electricity from power plants to towns and cities.
"The sun does not shine and the wind does not blow everywhere at the same time," they added. "A grid packed with renewables will require transmission lines to zip electricity from the places where weather conditions are favorable to the places people live. Moreover, electricity will have to replace gasoline as the fuel for the nation’s cars and trucks, power heat pumps and water heaters in people’s homes, and run the stoves that will replace natural gas ranges, which means the nation will need more of it — and more wires to move it around the country. Yet building things such as power lines is unreasonably difficult in the United States... The Manchin legislation would enhance the federal government’s power to approve transmission lines it deems to be in the national interest, and it would make it easier to finance the new wires."
In The New Republic, Kate Aronoff said Manchin's permitting bill is a "failure of democracy."
"The bill would expedite the process to approve both conventional and renewable energy projects by streamlining environmental reviews," she wrote. "It would also give more power to federal authorities to speed along priority projects, including transmission lines (good, from a climate standpoint) and fossil fuel pipelines (bad). Permitting reform has ignited what might charitably be called a spirited debate between so-called 'supply-side progressives,' who believe this permitting reform package is crucial for bringing clean energy installations online much faster, and the rest of the climate movement. Longtime climate activists are understandably wary of any kind of expedited environmental review eating into hard-won protections, and are worried about permitting reform disproportionately benefiting fossil fuels.
"Consider why this conversation is happening at all: Joe Manchin, a senator elected by fewer than 300,000 people, spent much of the last two years inflicting his idiosyncratic, fossil fuel–funded set of priorities on the rest of the country... Two guys [Schumer and Manchin] negotiated a deal behind closed doors. Both of them have accepted generous donations from the charismatic megaproject at its center, the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The details of that deal were worked out primarily by four guys, who released details about a sweeping overhaul of environmental regulations only a week before they intend to pass them into law... Climate advocates do need to conduct a healthy debate around permitting reform. This is a deeply depressing stage on which to hold it."
In The Wall Street Journal, Manchin urged both parties to come together and support his legislation.
"We are in the midst of a global energy war, and the American people—Republican, Democrat and independent—are paying the price," Manchin said. "Contrary to the radical agenda of Sen. Bernie Sanders and his allies, who seem oblivious to the reality of the global and domestic energy challenges we face, the common-sense permitting reforms contained in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022 will help cut costs and accelerate the building of the critical energy infrastructure we need. Some have said the legislation was crafted without Republican input or that it would make it harder for fossil fuels to be permitted. They are simply wrong. They aren’t being honest about what’s in the bill and how it came to be.
"Democrats and Republicans, along with leaders in the energy industry and stakeholders of all stripes, were instrumental in the substance of this balanced legislation," he wrote. "These essential reforms have been advocated by developers of all types of American energy—oil and gas, electric transmission, mining, solar and wind, and more. In fact, it is the kind of balanced and all-of-the-above energy approach America needs if we are to defend this nation’s energy security from those who seem hell-bent on weakening it... Passing the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022 is essential, and not only because it includes smart ideas and proposals that both my Republican and Democratic colleagues have championed for years, but also because it will send a message to the world that the U.S. won’t let anyone threaten or undermine its energy security."
What the right is saying.
- Many on the right want permitting reform to happen, but oppose this bill and the process behind it.
- Some criticize the details of the legislation, saying it won't come close to doing what it promises.
- Others hope permitting reform will now happen under a more normal process.
In AEI, Benjamin Zycher said the bill was "utterly divorced from its actual prospective impacts."
"Subtitle A establishes a two-year 'target' for environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for major projects that require the preparation of environmental impact statements; designates a 'lead agency' to coordinate policy reviews; establishes a statute of limitations of 150 days for court challenges of permits; and requires the President to designate for review a priority list of 25 'strategically important' projects," Zycher wrote. "Put those provisions together and the result is no actual reform of the real central problem, to wit, the litigation process under NEPA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, with which the environmental left and other opponents of conventional energy projects can go to court and engage in obstruction lasting years or decades.
"Note that subsection (j) provides that nothing in this section supersedes, amends, or modifies Federal environmental laws or agencies’ obligations under those laws; nothing preempts public comment procedures; and nothing preempts any other provision of law or powers, jurisdictions, responsibilities, or authorities of Federal, State, or local government agencies, Indian Tribes, or project sponsors under those laws; or affects judicial reviewability of federal agency actions," he said. "Translation: The litigation business model for the environmental left will continue. Subsection (k) establishes some time limits on agency actions following court decisions, but the blatant reality is that these time limits on revised environmental reviews — for which there is no enforcement mechanism — impose no constraint upon the litigation process itself."
The Wall Street Journal editorial board said the bill had a "poison pill."
"The main problem isn’t that his changes are too modest, though they are," the board said. "Some of them would do tangible harm to U.S. energy security and constitutional federalism. Though it’s received little attention, one section would rewrite how transmission lines are permitted, and not for the better. The 1935 Federal Power Act preserved state authority over transmission-line permits while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decides how to allocate costs. A transmission line that crosses a state affects its utility planning. Yet states may disagree over whose citizens should pay for it.
"FERC today apportions the costs by economic and reliability benefits. If a line reduces electricity prices in Michigan, its citizens shoulder some of the cost," he wrote. "The Manchin bill would disrupt this delicate federal-state balance. It gives FERC the power to permit an interstate transmission line if the Energy Secretary says it promotes 'national energy policy' or the ability of 'intermittent energy to connect to the electric grid.' FERC could override states and approve a line merely because it reduces CO2 emissions or encourages renewable power... More transmission lines will encourage more renewable development, but this will merely make it harder for fossil fuel and nuclear plants to stay in business. The result will be less reliable and secure energy, the opposite of Mr. Manchin’s stated goal."
The Deseret News editorial board praised Manchin for pulling the bill.
"The United States has been in need of permitting reform for decades. Energy projects languish for years while legal challenges and environmental reviews drag on, irritating all but those whose livelihoods depend on challenges and reviews," the board said. "Although they have long wanted such a bill, many Republicans were less than anxious to vote for this version. They didn’t like parts of it and would prefer to be able to negotiate a better version. Democrats had recently become fans of permitting reform because the same delaying tactics used against fossil fuel projects are being used to delay green energy projects. But some of them were balking at Manchin’s bill because it would help the other side, as well.
"The only thing crystal clear in all of this is that this is no way to pass a bill of such importance," the board said. "We understand that the art of political horse trading is older than the republic, but the nation’s ability to fund its government should not depend on passage of a bill that ought to be debated, negotiated and compromised, separate from all other considerations. Now, we hope, this can happen... Otto Von Bismark was the first to say it. 'Politics is the art of the possible' … Bismarck might say it sounds as if all sides ought to be able to come together to make a workable solution possible. Now that the bill is no longer attached to an unrelated funding plan, that might happen."
Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. It is meant to be one perspective amid many others. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, you can reply to this email and write in. If you're a paying subscriber, you can also leave a comment.
- I am generally biased toward "compromise" politics, but there are good-faith criticisms of this bill on both sides.
- What seems obvious is our current permitting process is broken and needs to be fixed.
- This process wasn't great, and it is on Manchin to continue to push this legislation to make it happen.
There is a school of thought in compromise politics that if nobody is happy, you must be doing the right thing. I find this idea alluring, perhaps because of my own biases that neither political tribe has a monopoly on good ideas. I also see compromise politics play out effectively all the time. Yet in this case, I feel absolutely torn about what to think.
For starters, it's worth noting there are obviously some Republicans opposing this bill as payback for Manchin's support for the huge spending blitz in the Inflation Reduction Act. Sen. John Cornyn actually admitted as much in an interview with Politico: “Given what Senator Manchin did on the reconciliation bill, [it’s] engendered a lot of bad blood,” he said. It's also worth stating plainly that the process for passing the bill was the kind of shady backdoor dealing I consistently oppose in Tangle, and it has drawn the ire of lots of progressives. Stuffing it into an unrelated, must-pass spending bill? Yeah, everything about it stinks to high heaven.
But there are also some good, principled reasons to oppose it for people of all stripes: On the right, Benjamin Zycher published what I can only really describe as an evisceration of the details of the bill in his AEI column — from the childishness of the demand that a president keep a running list of vague national priorities, to the backwardness of claiming that the bill would clear our legal backlogs on energy projects without creating a clear legal hierarchy to really end those backlogs. As Zycher put it, Manchin appears to have wanted justification for his vote on the IRA and was laser-focused on getting approval for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Everything else was... squishy.
On the left, the fact that the bill would allow the continued proliferation of major fossil fuel projects seems obvious, and if you've been exhausted by Manchin's constant kowtowing to big oil money for the last decade, it is especially infuriating to see the one unambiguous part of this legislation being a bright green light for a fossil fuel project in his state. There are also some subtle changes to the Clean Water Act whose impacts are still unclear to analysts and politicians — though one thing everyone seems to agree on is that they look a lot like the changes Trump wanted. All of this is enough to scare off plenty of progressives.
And yet, I can't shake the feeling that this is a huge missed opportunity. In this divided Senate, with this president, it seems unlikely we’ll get a bill that gives and takes so evenhandedly for both sides. For months, Republicans have screamed from the rooftops about the need to speed up permitting to avoid an energy crisis here. Now there is a bill that at least intends to do that — and takes some tangible steps to get there. At the same time, it rapidly expands the infrastructure for wind and solar energy Democrats want.
Yes, it has some central planning I don't love. And yes, Manchin is clearly angling for something he can take to his West Virginia voters. But this is the Senate. These kinds of concessions are how things usually get done. There is simply no version of permitting reform that is going to pass without some senators slipping in pet projects and some people on both sides being pissed off about what they didn't get.
I also love the spirit of the bill, if you can tolerate the breezy nature of such language. It calls for an “all of the above” energy push — with a long-term preference for wind, solar, natural gas and nuclear. Sign me up.
Of course, Manchin tried to simply jam this bill down everyone's throat in a must-pass spending bill. That, certainly, is not the best way to do this. So my fervent wish is one that aligns nicely with The Deseret's editorial board: I simply hope this is the first step toward an actual negotiation, amendment process, and eventual passage of something with elements that could please both the Benjamin Zychers and Kate Aronoffs of the world. It is on Manchin to keep pushing this bill, and on leaders of both parties to keep negotiating when he does. What would be a real shame, and truly disastrous for our future, would be to let this legislation die for good where it is now.
Your questions, answered.
Q: When you wake up in the morning, what is the first news source you open?
— Tiffany, Gainesville, Florida
Tangle: Woof. Good question!
Typically, the first thing I do in the morning is get out of bed, stretch, get a glass of water, and turn my coffee on. I usually try to avoid immediately jumping into the news, which inevitably gets my heart rate up, for at least five or 10 minutes. I wrote about this in my post on how I deal with the stress of this job.
After getting a minute of non-news-invaded puttering around, usually the first thing I do is open my phone. Which means I'll have push notifications from BBC, Apple News, and texts from various friends and reporters about whatever happened the night before. In that sense, the very first news I get can be quite varied, based on whatever big headlines are breaking.
Once I sit down at my computer, though, I have a pretty regular routine: Open The Wall Street Journal, scan the homepage. Open The New York Times, scan the home page. Open The Washington Post, scan the home page. Open FoxNews.com, scan the homepage. I like doing this just to get a sense of what the most mainstream outlets are covering, with some ideological diversity. And then I dive into my email inbox of newsletters (Axios, Morning Brew, Politico, Punchbowl News, 1440, and Daily Chatter are usually the first ones I read).
From there, I go wherever my research takes me!
Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.
Under the radar.
President Biden is pushing a new economic strategy to eliminate hidden fees charged by banks, hotels, and utility service providers. Biden specifically called out hotel processing fees, banks’ overdraft fees, late fees on credit card bills, and cancellation fees on customers who want to change their internet or cell phone providers, according to UPI. Biden is hoping to eliminate the fees as an anti-inflation measure, saying it would bring down costs for families. Eliminating bank fees alone would save taxpayers around $3 billion per year, according to some estimates. UPI has the story here.
- 36%. Since 1979, the average percentage of Americans who said they were satisfied with the way things are going in the United States.
- 13%. In April of 2022, the percentage of Americans who said they were satisfied with the way things were going in the United States.
- 21%. This month, the percentage of Americans who said they were satisfied with the way things are going in the United States.
- 80%. The percentage of the emissions reductions from the Inflation Reduction Act that would not occur if the United States failed to expand its transmission lines, according to one estimate.
- 2 million. The number of people who are on order to evacuate their homes in Florida to avoid Hurricane Ian.
Have a nice day.
A dog surfing is no longer the stuff of a miraculous Guinness Book of World Record — there are now enough four legged wave shredders to run full fledged canine surfing competitions. That, apparently, is what happened again at the Del Mar Dog Beach in San Diego County earlier this month, when more than 70 canine competitors participated in the 17th annual Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon. Competing in 10-minute heats, dogs were judged on their ability to ride waves and keep their balance, as well as a raw (and very subjective) "fun factor." The Surf-A-Thon doesn't just showcase unusual talents, but also raises funds for the Helen Woodward Animal Center. The Coast News has the story.
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