The highly-anticipated debt ceiling package House Republicans and President Biden announced on Sunday includes a provision fast-tracking a massive 303-mile West Virginia-to-Virginia natural gas pipeline project for approval.
The unexpected carveout green-lighting the billion-dollar Mountain Valley Pipeline — which is 94% complete, but has been mired in a lengthy permitting process for years — was immediately cheered by West Virginia lawmakers who have touted the project's expected economic benefits for years. The pipeline is projected to create 2,500 construction jobs, $40 million in new tax revenue for West Virginia, $10 million in new tax revenue for Virginia and up to $250 million in royalties for West Virginia landowners.
"After working with Speaker McCarthy and reiterating what completing the Mountain Valley Pipeline would mean for American jobs and domestic energy production, I am thrilled it is included in the debt ceiling package that avoids default," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement.
"Despite delay after delay, we continued to fight to get this critical natural gas pipeline up and running, and its inclusion in this deal is a significant victory for the future of West Virginia," she added.
According to a spokesperson for Capito, the pipeline's approval was ultimately earmarked in the debt ceiling deal after she personally engaged with McCarthy about its importance. The spokesperson added that the entire congressional delegation from West Virginia had pushed for its inclusion in the package.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, also applauded House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for ensuring the project was included in the deal. Manchin's attempts last year to fast-track the pipeline in a budget package in September and a defense spending package in December both failed to garner enough support.
"Last summer, I introduced legislation to complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline," Manchin said Sunday. "I am pleased Speaker McCarthy and his leadership team see the tremendous value in completing the MVP to increase domestic energy production and drive down costs across America and especially in West Virginia."
He added: "I am proud to have fought for this critical project and to have secured the bipartisan support necessary to get it across the finish line."
Overall, the pipeline is projected to transport approximately 2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas from West Virginia to consumers in the Mid- and South Atlantic.
The budget deal, meanwhile, comes less than a week after both the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service provided the Mountain Valley Pipeline's developer with key authorizations to proceed with construction through a three-mile stretch of the Jefferson National Forest along the West Virginia-Virginia border.
However, both agencies said pipeline construction in the forest area wasn't allowed to take place until all outstanding permits were awarded. The project has yet to receive required authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently being challenged in court and environmental groups have vowed further litigation over the project.
"Since coming to Congress, I've worked tirelessly alongside my West Virginia colleagues to complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline," Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., said. "Finally, Republicans and Democrats are coming together to finish the Mountain Valley Pipeline which will create more jobs, lower energy costs, and protect our environment. This bill is a bipartisan win for every American."
The budget deal, which now must be passed in the House and Senate to avoid a U.S. default, is likely to face some blowback from eco groups and Democrats who have opposed the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Biden said Sunday that neither side got everything they wanted from the deal and that was the "responsibility of governing."
"The agreement also represents a compromise, which means no one got everything they want," the president explained. "And the — this is a deal that’s good news for, I believe you’ll see, for the American people."