By approving new liquified natural gas (LNG) export facilities and fast-tracking the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Senator Joe Manchin’s proposed permitting legislation could lead to hundreds of millions of additional tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year, according to data compiled by Oil Change International. 

The total annual emissions from the Mountain Valley Pipeline and currently proposed LNG terminals in pending federal permitting processes — whose construction could be facilitated by Sen. Manchin’s “dirty deal” — is 665 million metric tons of CO2e. 

This figure is over five times the potential emissions reductions resulting from the construction of 22 transmission line projects that proponents have suggested the bill is supposed to facilitate (119 million metric tons). The Mountain Valley Pipeline alone, at 89 million metric tons of CO2e per year, would negate 75% of that. Just one of the larger LNG projects — for instance, Rio Grande LNG, at 140 million tons CO2e per year — would emit more than the estimated transmission line savings. 

Source: Based on methodology from this Oct. 2021 Oil Change International briefing, with an updated list of projects.

While these fossil fuel projects are currently facing stiff opposition from grassroots and environmental groups, Manchin’s proposed legislation could ease their approval pathway by weakening environmental reviews and mandating the president to designate so-called “critical energy projects” that would be prioritized and exempted from some regulations. 

Striking as they are, these numbers are likely an underestimate of the total emissions the permitting legislation would unlock, because they only include currently proposed fossil fuel projects. With this new legislation in place, fossil fuel companies could be encouraged to propose even more polluting projects, anticipating an easier permitting process thanks to a weakened National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The bill could also extend the life-cycle of existing power plants or other polluting facilities, and could encourage ongoing fossil fuel production — including on public lands and waters — leading to additional GHG emissions. 

Over the last week, much has been made about the potential carbon savings from the legislation’s efforts to speed up the build out of transmission lines, a key component of a new clean energy system. According to Princeton’s REPEAT project, the pace of transmission expansion must more than double to achieve the full emissions reductions potential of the IRA. 

But REPEAT and other analysts haven’t modeled the actual impacts of Manchin’s proposed legislation. While the bill would likely help speed up some transmission buildout, the actual impact of the legislation on transmission expansion is unknown. It’s possible the necessary expansion could be achieved with existing permitting requirements, or that critical and useful regulatory reforms could be enacted under existing laws without the legislation. These are open questions, as are the actual climate savings achieved through this proposed legislation. 

While most of the potential emissions reductions from the IRA are reliant on a variety of unproven assumptions — such as the hopes that new tax credits will allow clean energy to rapidly displace fossil fuels, consumers will purchase new electric vehicles, and carbon capture and sequestration will function at scale — the emissions from new fossil fuel projects are all but guaranteed. Once built, these pipelines and export facilities will pump millions of tons of CO2e into the atmosphere each year for decades to come. 

A number of Members of Congress have suggested that while they oppose the negative impacts of Manchin’s proposed legislation on communities and local environments, the bill is worth passing because of the potential climate savings. This analysis directly undercuts that argument. While more transmission is most certainly needed, the potential benefits from Manchin’s dirty deal are hypothetical and undetermined — but the resulting harms are concrete, calculable, and very high. 

2 Comments

  • It is impossible to limit global warming without streamlining permitting of transmission lines. You are willing to leave this to chance, saying
    “It’s possible the necessary expansion could be achieved with existing permitting requirements, or that critical and useful regulatory reforms could be enacted under existing laws without the legislation.”
    When you say that, you are the one who is basing your proposal on unproven assumptions. Building new transmission capacity is to important to leave to “it is possible that….”

    BTW, there is also an obvious self-contradiction in your analysis. You say at the end of the analysis, “the potential benefits from Manchin’s dirty deal are hypothetical and undetermined.” If the benefits are undetermined, then it impossible for you to calculate that the increased emissions are greater than the benefits, as you claim at the beginning of the analysis.

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