News Article

Durbin Carves Loophole to Dump Manchin Bill
September 27, 2022


By: Candice Cole

Democratic leadership has signaled they’re not committed to keeping changes for energy-project permitting rules attached to “must-pass” legislation to keep the government funded beyond this Friday and avoid a government shutdown.

In recent remarks, Sen. Maj. Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) said that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was promised a vote on permitting legislation, but was not promised that Democrats would pass it, The Hill reported. Manchin’s permitting language was included in Democratic funding legislation, known as a continuing resolution (CR), last night.

One source in the environmental-justice (EJ) movement told TYT that Durbin’s comments – and the implication that Democrats can keep their word to Manchin and still drop his bill after giving it a vote – had been noted.

Referring to Sen. Maj. Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), whose support for the bill got Manchin to vote for the Inflation Reduction Act, Durbin described Schumer’s commitment as being for a vote – but nothing more.

“Sen. Schumer promised a vote to Sen. Manchin on a must-pass bill and we’ll take that vote,” Durbin said, implicitly leaving the door open for a follow-up vote without Manchin’s permitting language.

“The commitment was to offer this bill on a must-pass plan,” Durbin said. “The goal is to bring this matter to a vote, as Sen. Schumer promised.” A procedural vote on the measure could come as soon as tonight.

It was not clear whether Schumer sees his commitment to Manchin the same way Durbin does. But it’s Durbin’s job as whip to muster Democratic support, or let Democrats off the hook if they oppose it.

The source told TYT that EJ groups caught wind of Durbin’s comments and “are aware of that strategy” to give Manchin a vote but nothing more.

Intentions to attach permitting legislation to the CR have faced strong opposition from progressive lawmakers in both chambers of Congress and among environmental groups. And as Politico reports, Sen. Min. Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is whipping Republicans to block the move, too, as many say Manchin’s bill doesn’t go far enough to fast-track energy projects.

As TYT first reported, House Natural Resources Chair Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) urged fellow Democrats to send a letter asking Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Maj. Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) for a clean vote on the Manchin bill. Seventy-six Democrats, a third of the caucus, signed on.

Late last week, Sen. Jeffrey Merkley (D-OR) followed up with a similar letter to Schumer. Merkley has at least eight co-signers, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Ben Cardin (D-MD).

Their letter says, in part:

“The environmental justice community is warranted in their belief that altering policies that shape how energy projects are considered will have profound implications for their health, prosperity, well-being, and overall quality of life. We agree, and believe such important issues should be examined through detailed committee consideration and a robust floor debate separate from the urgent need to see that the government stays open.”

According to the EJ source, “putting the [permitting] bill up for a failed vote would give [Democratic leadership] cover” to then drop Manchin’s bill. Environmental groups referred to the permitting bill as the Manchin-Schumer deal “so that [Schumer] feels the heat from EJ groups,” the source said.

Manchin released the text of the Energy Independence and Security Act last Wednesday. Grijalva responded, saying the bill “looks just as dirty as it did when it was leaked last month—except without the American Petroleum Institute’s watermark on it this time.”

Faced with mounting bipartisan opposition, Manchin, who is heavily invested in fossil fuels, has been making the rounds on the morning shows, telling Americans that their status as a superpower depends heavily on the energy independence promoted by his bill.

Manchin told Fox that “Bernie Sanders and my left wing of the Democratic party would never support anything that would let us be energy independent with the energy we have in our own country.” Environmental organizations, however, have said that Democratic efforts to boost renewable energy, which Manchin has opposed, would be both cleaner and a more reliable path toward energy independence.

The language in Manchin’s bill largely mirrors the one-page summary that was leaked last month.

If Manchin’s bill becomes law, it would require the president to keep a rolling list of at least 25 “balanced” high-priority energy projects – fossil fuel and renewable – to be fast-tracked for permitting. It would also limit community input on potentially harmful energy infrastructure projects, like natural gas drilling, that disproportionately affect communities of color and low-income communities and create more of what activists call “sacrifice zones.”

The Manchin bill also guarantees the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would carry natural gas over 300 miles from Manchin’s home state of West Virginia to southern Virginia – an endeavor environmental justice activists have successfully held off for nine years. Plans also include a 72-mile extension into North Carolina.

While defenders of the Manchin bill say fast-tracking permitting is necessary to slow climate change, progressives and climate activists have said it can be done for clean energy alone and without disproportionately hurting disenfranchised communities.

As TYT reported last week, the timing of Manchin’s bill, with just three days until a potential shutdown, leaves no room for any impact study to determine its impact on historically and disproportionately affected Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities.

And a new poll by Data for Progress and WE ACT 4 Change suggests that pushing Manchin’s bill through would be wildly out of step with popular sentiment. The poll found that 65% of voters across party lines want lawmakers to prioritize feedback from community groups over lobbyists when it comes to fast-tracking potentially harmful energy projects.

Lawmakers will have until midnight Friday to come to a consensus on a CR before facing a possible government shutdown.