A pumpjack sits on the outskirts of town at dawn in the Permian Basin oil field on Jan. 21, 2016 in the oil town of Midland, Texas. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON – The group of U.S. House Democrats asking the chamber’s leaders not to include environmental permitting changes in a stopgap spending deal this month comprises 76 members, including senior leaders of budget and spending committees and factions across the caucus’ ideological spectrum.
The 76 signers on a letter sent late last week make up a third of the House Democratic caucus, which currently stands at 219. No Iowa lawmakers had signed the letter.
The House members’ objections are to what they say is a fossil-fuel-friendly deal struck by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. The agreement secured Manchin’s support for a major Democratic bill on health care, taxes and climate.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, said in a floor speech last week that he also strongly opposed changes to permitting regulations.
The House members, led by House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Friday asking that a bill to update the federal approval process for energy projects not be included in the continuing resolution Congress must pass to keep the government open after the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate have already endorsed the Manchin permitting deal.
Still, several committee chairs, including Budget Chairman John Yarmuth of Kentucky, signed the letter. Minnesota’s Betty McCollum and California’s Lucille Roybal-Allard, who lead subcommittees of the powerful House Appropriations Committee that writes spending bills, also endorsed it.
Most of the signatures came from members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which Grijalva formerly chaired.
But 19 are not members of that group. One signer, Ed Case of Hawaii, co-chairs the centrist Blue Dog Coalition.
Manchin, a centrist Democrat aligned with his state’s fossil-fuel industries, and Schumer, of New York, agreed to move the permitting legislation as part of a deal to pass Democrats’ $750 billion climate, taxes and health bill this summer.
A July press release from Manchin announcing the deal said Schumer, Pelosi and President Joe Biden had agreed to the permitting reform legislation.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Monday that the Biden administration supports the permitting deal, which she said was critical to passing the spending bill that included the largest step the United States has taken to address climate change.
“We support that deal and that vote,” she told reporters traveling with the president aboard Air Force One. “And we will work with Congress to determine the best pathway forward.”
Representatives for Pelosi did not return a message seeking comment Monday.
Federal permitting provides important environmental protections and chances for communities to object to new projects, the House members’ letter said. Changes to those requirements would likely weaken protections for communities, to the benefit of fossil-fuel industries, the members said.
Proponents of updating the permitting process say updates would help speed construction of renewable energy projects and transmission infrastructure.
It’s unclear how far the letter’s signers will go to defeat permitting legislation, details of which have not been released.
The letter urges House leaders not to include the bill and notes members will be forced to choose between opposing legislation they say will weaken environmental protections and shutting down the government.
But the members do not threaten to vote against a spending bill that does include the permitting measure.
— Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.
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