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Opinion | Don't force the Mountain Valley Pipeline on Virginia

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R. Creigh Deeds, a Democrat who represents Virginia's 25th state Senate District, lives in Charlottesville.

Communities across Virginia that have been battling the Mountain Valley Pipeline for years have been holding their breath since the news broke about a backroom deal tied to passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. The deal is a wish list for the fossil fuel industry that would eradicate all the efforts by community members, state legislators and advocacy groups to receive fair consideration of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and stack the deck in favor of future projects.

The effort by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) to undermine the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act simply is not good policy. The proposal would sacrifice communities and the environment and sabotage vital climate change mitigation efforts for short-term profits for the fossil fuel industry. Manchin's plan guts 50 years of bipartisan environmental protections, mandates how the judiciary handles certain cases and forces federal approval on a controversial project.

Under ordinary circumstances, this proposal would be dead on arrival.

The only reason this proposal is getting any consideration is because of a deal made by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) with Manchin to secure passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. The imprudent promise to include Manchin's proposal in must-pass legislation could undermine decades of progress and have negative consequences for communities in Virginia and throughout the United States.

As of now, it looks as though Manchin's proposal will be attached to a continuing resolution needed to keep the government running. Because neither Democrats nor Republicans want to be blamed for shutting down the federal government so close to the midterm elections, this vehicle will likely pass, even if it contains provisions that a majority of Congress — and the American people — vehemently oppose.

Using such coercive techniques is no way to govern. As a state senator, I understand legislative sausage-making. But this is beyond the pale.

Among many other provisions, Manchin's proposal would usurp executive authority by attempting to force administrative agencies to come to predetermined conclusions about permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Our federal agencies should not be forced to give preferential treatment to a specific project. The communities in the pipeline's path deserve a government that applies the same level of scrutiny to the Mountain Valley plan as any other matter under review.

Under the false premise of avoiding litigation delays, the proposal would micromanage how judicial panels are formed, demanding randomized panels for each case. Our federal circuit courts assign judges to similar cases so that the judges can build expertise around certain subject matters, which saves the court time and resources and allows for a more thoughtful and deliberative consideration of cases. Undermining those efforts is reprehensible, particularly when the integrity of our democratic institutions is already under assault.

And contrary to the principles of equal justice, Manchin's proposal would let powerful special interests choose the venue in which they face litigation.

The proposal also would severely restrict the length of time for permitting reviews and for filing litigation. I have seen firsthand the amount of time it takes for communities to organize and respond when a wealthy corporation files an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build such a project. The process already favors the fossil fuel industry, and shortening time frames further tips the scales.

These unpopular and consequential policy changes should not be rammed through Congress by attaching them to must-pass legislation. I urge every member of Congress to join Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and stand up for good governance — stand up for the people they represent — and tell Schumer and Manchin that they will not approve this fossil fuel giveaway.

If the only way to get this deal through Congress is through this backroom maneuver, then it has no business becoming law.

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