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Advocates in the fossil fuel and clean energy industries are eyeing divided government as a chance to rekindle interest in a bipartisan permitting overhaul. In the fall, a plan from Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) failed after pushback from both the progressive left and conservative right. But the fights in September highlighted a desire by many lawmakers to find a solution for project backlogs and sluggish environmental reviews. Such delays have affected clean energy and fossil fuel projects alike in recent years.

“There is a long and proud tradition of energy and environmental statutes being adopted by a divided government because of the relative balance and leverage that occurs between the entities, and that removing obstacles to the energy development that both parties tend to desire is something that can be the basis of bipartisan advancement,” said Scott Segal, a partner at the law and lobbying firm Bracewell LLP. “Of course, that includes things like permitting reform.”

Manchin’s effort was part of a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Manchin agreed to vote for the Inflation Reduction Act — the climate, tax and health care law — in exchange for Democratic leaders pledging to pursue permitting reform. Many Senate Democrats said the bill’s transmission language would be help expand the electric grid and transmit renewable energy to population centers. Climate hawks in Congress remain optimistic about a potential deal. “I think it’s possible,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in an interview Wednesday. “The test is going to be: can you find the proper balance?”

The solar industry said efforts to unleash more transmission could generate bipartisan collaboration following the midterms. “It doesn’t really matter where your electrons come from,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “We all agree there’s consensus that transmission is important.”

‘Hard to get much done’

Manchin hoped to resurrect the stalled bill in Congress’ upcoming lame-duck period, either as an amendment to the pending defense authorization bill or as an inclusion on the must-pass government spending package. But lame-duck politics may prove to be an obstacle, especially as Republicans look to flex their new might (Greenwire, Nov. 13). “When you have a change in majority control, it’s very hard to get much done in a lame-duck session because the party coming into power has different ideas and different priorities,” said Frank Macchiarola, the American Petroleum Institute’s senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs.

Environmental groups pledged Wednesday to continue resisting any changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, as well as construction of the Mountain Valley pipeline. “The proposed permitting reform bill would significantly weaken the protections under NEPA and make it easier to approve fossil fuel projects without adequate environmental analysis or meaningful public input,” said Sierra Club President Ramón Cruz. “We would oppose any attempts to include these provisions on NDAA or any other must-pass legislation,” Cruz added during a call with reporters.

Republicans called Manchin’s bill lackluster for not going far enough to streamline approvals, and many were hesitant to give the Democrats a win following after the party-line Inflation Reduction Act. The oil and gas industry nonetheless listed permitting reform as something it would continue to push for in the new Congress. “Infrastructure is important for every source of energy and so we would agree that that needs to be a priority in the next Congress and for this administration,” said Macchiarola.