Why it's important to avoid a default in the United States 1:57
(CNN) -- Sen. Joe Manchin's effort to greenlight the controversial Mountain Valley pipeline, a project that will transport methane gas through parts of West Virginia and Virginia, will likely prevail in the bipartisan debt ceiling agreement, infuriating environmental groups and some Democratic lawmakers.
Manchin helped secure a provision in the settlement that would force federal agencies to approve all remaining permits for the roughly 480-kilometer natural gas pipeline, as well as shield the project from further litigation.
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The conservative West Virginia Democrat, who has been critical of the Biden administration's environmental goals, praised the White House and congressional Republicans this week.
"All of a sudden, [the White House] did its job, negotiated. And Kevin McCarthy did his job by putting something first and starting this negotiation. So I applaud both sides," Manchin said in an interview Tuesday on West Virginia's "Talkline" radio show.
Although the pipeline's inclusion in mandatory approval legislation has delighted West Virginia lawmakers, environmental groups are furious about congressional intervention after successfully challenging the pipeline in court. Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit had struck down permits for the project on the grounds that they violated the Clean Water Act.
"They're literally changing the rules of the game while we're playing," Crystal Cavalier-Keck, co-founder of the indigenous environmental justice group 7 Directions of Service, told reporters Tuesday.
Environmental groups called the effort to secure pipeline exemptions "immoral" and "unconscionable," with some blaming President Joe Biden's administration and congressional lawmakers.
Tennessee Democratic Rep. Justin Pearson told reporters Tuesday, "For this administration to claim it cares about environmental justice and then give the green light to the Mountain Valley pipeline while gutting the National Environmental Policy Act is abhorrent and wrong."
Manchin has criticized Biden's climate goals, but this week praised the White House and congressional Republicans for their work on the debt ceiling deal. Credit: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
But White House officials said they defended Biden's important climate bill in debt ceiling talks and successfully lobbied against Republican efforts to further weaken environmental protections.
"President Biden protected his landmark climate legislation, blocked House Republicans from withdrawing unprecedented funding for environmental justice projects, and reached an agreement to more quickly get hundreds of clean energy projects up and running, while protecting the full scope of environmental reviews," the White House deputy press secretary said in a statement. Abdullah Hasan.
What is the Mountain Valley Pipeline?
The 482-kilometer-long pipeline would transport gas from West Virginia's Marcellus and Utica shale areas to Virginia. The pipeline would traverse national federal waterways and forest lands, which is why it underwent a complex process of obtaining environmental permits and led to multiple lawsuits.
The project has been seriously delayed, in part, because several of the court challenges were upheld by the Virginia-based Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which has repeatedly dismissed the project's permits on environmental grounds.
"We keep getting the same judges and they keep dismissing it," former West Virginia University law professor James Van Nostrand told CNN in an interview last year. "The promoters have done a horrible job of enforcing the laws."
Manchin tried to greenlight the pipeline last year with a bill that ultimately failed when Senate Republicans, upset with Manchin for his yes vote on the Reducing Inflation Act, ended his chances. White House officials backed Manchin's effort last year, and climate and energy officials, including senior White House adviser John Podesta and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, expressed support for approval of the pipeline more recently.
A White House official said the debt-limit provision fulfills a compromise the White House and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reached with Manchin last year to secure his vote in favor of the Inflation Reduction Act.
In recent months, the Biden administration has approved several federal permits needed by the project. But the debt-ceiling legislation, if passed, would go a step further to protect a litigation-plagued project from further legal action. The legislation only allows the Washington Circuit Court of Appeals to hear challenges to the legislation, not the bill itself.
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A desperate attempt to remove it
There could be a last-ditch effort to undo the pipeline portion of the bill. Lawmakers from both parties in the House and Senate introduced amendments to remove the pipeline from the legislation, with the support of a coalition of Virginia Democrats in the House of Representatives, as well as a Republican congressman from Texas.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., also plans to introduce an amendment in the Senate to that effect, but it's unclear whether any of these initiatives will succeed.
"Senator Kaine is very disappointed by the bill's provision that greenlights the controversial Mountain Valley gas pipeline in Virginia, circumventing the normal judicial and administrative review process that all other energy projects have to go through," a Kaine spokesperson said in a statement.
While this initiative is being processed in Congress, environmental groups plan a sit-in in front of the White House next week to protest against the pipeline.
Debt ceiling pipeline