White House Backs Manchin on Expediting Energy Project Permits, Calls on Congress to Pass Bill

(Reuters) — The White House on Wednesday called on Congress to pass permitting legislation that would help speed up clean energy and fossil fuel projects, betting that the bipartisan measure may help end a standoff on the debt ceiling.

The renewed push on permitting reform comes the day after President Joe Biden met with top Republican and Democratic lawmakers for the first time in three months to avoid a historic default on U.S. debt that the Treasury Department has warned could come in weeks.

Republicans have made permitting reform a priority and Biden, who last year supported a bill from Senator Joe Manchin, a fellow Democrat, indicated on Tuesday that he was open to discussing the issue as part of the talks.

The reform measures applying to oil and gas projects are opposed by progressive Democrats and environmental groups who say they could greenlight dangerous projects.

"Right now, the permitting process for clean energy infrastructure, including transmission, is plagued by delays and bottlenecks. These delays are pervasive at every level of government, federal, state and local. We got so good at stopping projects that we forgot how to build things in America," White House climate adviser John Podesta told attendees at forum hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center on Wednesday.

The White House is backing a bill by Manchin of West Virginia, who has grown more critical in recent months of the administration's attacks on the fossil fuel industry. West Virginia is a major coal producer and Manchin's family has benefited financially from the industry.

The White House released a detailed fact sheet outlining reform measures its seeking, including helping clean energy projects like wind and solar get on the grid faster.

Manchin's legislation sets a two-year limit on environmental reviews of major federal energy projects, including ones on fossil fuels and directs the president to designate at least 25 high-level energy projects and prioritize their permitting.

The bill also calls for completion of the $6.6 billion Equitrans Midstream Corp.'s Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would run through Manchin's state.

The White House said it is using existing authorities to speed permitting of energy projects. For example, the law governing claims for minerals used in everything from solar panels to electric vehicles is more than 150 years old, it said.

Podesta told Reuters last week the administration will support the bill because it would help clean power companies use hundreds of billions of dollars in tax credits in the president's climate law over the next decade.

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