Biden, Manchin, GOP Lawmakers Defend Gas Pipeline Challenged by Environmental Group

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
July 21, 2023Politics
Biden, Manchin, GOP Lawmakers Defend Gas Pipeline Challenged by Environmental Group
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) pay respects to Hershel Woodrow Woody Williams in the United States Capitol Rotunda during a Congressional tribute ceremony in Washington on July 14, 2022. (Tom Williams/Pool/Getty Images)

A legal battle over the construction of a new natural gas pipeline in West Virginia has raised common ground between President Joe Biden’s administration, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and a group of Republican lawmakers.

The deal to increase the U.S. debt limit last month included a provision to approve the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a natural gas project set to run between Virginia and West Virginia. An environmental group known as the Wilderness Society has challenged the pipeline’s construction, winning a July 11 order from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that halts the pipeline’s construction for now.

The developers behind the Mountain Valley Pipeline project have since asked (pdf) the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Fourth Circuit Court’s decision and allow the pipeline to go forward.

On Tuesday, Mr. Manchin filed a “friend of the court” amicus curiae brief (pdf) backing the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s request.

Mr. Manchin’s amicus brief was followed the next day by an amicus brief (pdf) brought by nine Republican lawmakers. In their brief, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Reps. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), John Joyce (R-Pa.), Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), Dan Meuser (R-Pa.), Carol Miller (R-W.Va.) and Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) all expressed their support for overturning the appeals court order and letting the pipeline project proceed.

On Friday, the Biden administration also weighed in, lending its support for the pipeline project. Writing on the administration’s behalf, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued (pdf) that the deal cut during the passage of the debt limit bill, the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, had taken the power to stop the pipeline’s construction out of the jurisdiction of the lower courts.

The relevant section of the debt limit bill states, “No court”—up to and including the Fourth Circuit—”shall have jurisdiction to review any action taken by [the relevant agencies] that grants … any … approval necessary for the construction and initial operation at full capacity of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.”

Ms. Prelogar added that the Wilderness Society’s legal challenges “cannot succeed because Congress ratified the agency actions that they challenge and superseded any provision of law inconsistent with the issuance of those approvals.”

NTD News reached out to the Wilderness Society for comment but the did not receive a response by the time this article was published.

Fossil Fuel Projects Divide Democrats

While Mr. Manchin and the Biden administration find themselves aligned with Republican lawmakers supporting the Mountain Valley Pipeline, several Democratic lawmakers have backed the Wilderness Society’s opposition to the pipeline project.

On July 5, Democratic Virginia Reps. Jennifer McClellan, Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, and Jennifer Wexton submitted an amicus brief in the Fourth Circuit Court, siding with the Wilderness Project in opposition to the pipeline.

In their brief (pdf), the five Democratic lawmakers argued that the pipeline risks damaging streams and wetlands and would “require a taking of private property from many Virginia families.” The lawmakers urged the Fourth Circuit Court to allow the challenges to the pipeline to continue until it has a chance to consider the merits to those challenges.

Mr. Beyer, Ms. McClellan, and Ms. Wexton voted for the Fiscal Responsibility Act, despite its inclusion of the provisions favoring the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s completion. Mr. Connolly and Mr. Scott voted against the debt limit bill.

Explaining their votes on the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the July 5 brief states that they all supported an amendment to keep the Mountain Valley Pipeline project out of the debt limit bill.

“Only after amici’s efforts to pursue this amendment failed did Mr. Beyer, Ms. Wexton, and Ms. McClellan agree to vote for the broader bill. They concluded that anticipated harm to the global economy if the nation defaulted on its debt posed an unacceptable risk. In so voting, amici did not waive any right to continue raising objections to the [Mountain Valley Pipeline] approval process in all appropriate forums, including this litigation. Mr. Scott and Mr. Connolly voted against the Fiscal Responsibility Act as presented on the floor of the House of Representatives, in part because their objections to the MVP remained unaddressed.”

This case would not be the first time the Biden administration and his fellow Democrats have ended up on opposite sides of a debate over new fossil fuel projects.

In March, the Biden administration approved a scaled-down version of a proposed oil-drilling and pipeline project in Alaska. The decision was met with some Democratic criticism, including by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) who called the decision an “environmental injustice” that “leaves an oil stain on the administration’s climate accomplishments and the president’s commitment not to permit new oil and gas drilling on federal land.”