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Kaine says Mountain Valley Pipeline provision in Manchin bill ‘could open the door to serious abuse and even corruption’

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Kaine says Mountain Valley Pipeline provision in Manchin bill ‘could open the door to serious abuse and even corruption’

Sep 22, 2022 | 10:01 pm ET
By Sarah Vogelsong
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Kaine says Mountain Valley Pipeline provision in Manchin bill ‘could open the door to serious abuse and even corruption’

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine (D) on Thursday sharply criticized a provision of a federal energy permitting reform bill that would force completion of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline, saying that “it could open the door to serious abuse and even corruption.” 

“If they demonstrate on the merits that they should be entitled to build a pipeline … then build it by all means,” Kaine said in a lengthy speech on the U.S. Senate floor. “But don’t embrace the need for permitting reform and then choose one project in the entire United States affecting my state and pull it out of permitting reform, insulating it from the normal processes.” 

The completion of the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline, intended to carry gas from the Marcellus shale fields in West Virginia to southern Virginia, has been a political flashpoint in Virginia since it was first proposed in 2014.

Opposition to the project has led to numerous court challenges, a settlement with Virginia over more than 300 environmental violations and the yanking of multiple federal permits by judges in the Richmond-based U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Today, most of the unfinished portion of the pipeline lies in Virginia’s Giles, Craig and Montgomery counties. 

This August, the project grabbed national attention when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, said he had agreed to support Democrats’ sweeping Inflation Reduction Act in exchange for approval of separate legislation to reform the nation’s energy permitting processes. A one-page summary of what the legislation would do included the completion of Mountain Valley

The text of the bill, which was released Wednesday, would require the federal government to issue outstanding permits for the project within 30 days, including authorizations from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect endangered species, from the Bureau of Land Management to allow the pipeline to cross the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia and from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve its remaining crossing of federal waters. 

The legislation says that none of those actions would be subject to review by the courts. Additionally, it would transfer any other legal action related to the pipeline or challenges to the act itself from the 4th Circuit to the D.C. Circuit. 

On Thursday, Kaine said Congress should not interfere with specific judicial and administrative review cases and called the transfer of jurisdiction away from the 4th Circuit “a very, very dangerous precedent.” 

“What ground would there be for such a historic rebuke of my hometown federal circuit court, to say that just because they ruled against a powerful energy corporation, we will in an unprecedented way strip jurisdiction away from them in a pending case that is midstream and not allow them to hear it?” he asked. 

Manchin’s proposal, known as the Energy Independence and Security Act, is attached to Congress’ stopgap spending bill, which is intended to keep the government operating after the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. A vote on the spending bill is expected next week.

Manchin’s office did not respond to a request for comment about Kaine’s remarks.