WASHINGTON — With energy independence a goal discussed by every leader in West Virginia now, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is set to meet with FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) today to find out why guidelines were changed recently that may impede pipeline construction with even stricter regulations.

“FERC reversed decades of precedent,” he said of new guidelines that require stricter considerations in several areas.

“It is a tremendous drawback … for our energy reliance and reliability,” Manchin said during a virtual press conference from his Washington office Wednesday. “They (the five members of the FERC board) are going to have to explain to me why they have taken these drastic measures … and why they think they have the ability to do that. Why did they … make those changes?”

Manchin, Gov. Jim Justice and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R. W.Va., all want to pursue energy independence in light of the impact from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and use natural gas from West Virginia to help do so, as well as help countries in Europe who need it.

When FERC made the decision (by a 3-2 vote) on guidelines last month, Manchin, who is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was quick to respond.

“Today’s reckless decision by FERC’s Democratic Commissioners puts the security of our nation at risk,” he said. “The commission went too far by prioritizing a political agenda over their main mission — ensuring our nation’s energy reliability and security. The only thing they accomplished today was constructing additional road blocks that further delay building out the energy infrastructure our country desperately needs. Energy independence is our greatest geopolitical and economic tool and we cannot lose sight of that as instability rises around the globe.”

With the changes, gas pipeline reviews will consider a project’s effect on climate change, look at a wider set of impacts on landowners and environmental justice communities, and scrutinize the economic need related to the public need.

On Wednesday, Manchin called the changes “sweeping and ill-informed” and he is now seeking answers, and remedies.

“We cannot get a pipeline out of the Marcellus Shale (in north central West Virginia),” he said, referring to the shutdown of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project and the problems with finishing the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).

Both natural gas pipelines were inundated with lawsuits filed by environmental groups that cite the impact on the environment, danger to residents and the validity of going through unwilling landowners’ property because of eminent domain.

“The Mountain Valley Pipeline is 95 percent complete,” Manchin said. “That means the pipeline is in the ground, covered and reclamation done (on the land above it). But they have been blocked. That pipeline must be connected to the market.”

The 303-mile, 42-inch diameter MVP would carry natural gas from West Virginia to Chatham, Va. and then connect with another pipeline. It crosses Summers and Monroe counties in West Virginia and Giles, Montgomery, Roanoke and Franklin counties in Virginia.

Initially slated for being in use by the end of 2018, but delayed by protests and court cases, the $3.5 billion project now has a price tag of more than $6 billion and is scheduled to be in operation in 2023.

The latest setback come early last month when the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va. invalidated approvals previously granted by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to construct the pipeline on federal land.

That includes Jefferson National Forest, which the MVP must pass through in Monroe and Giles Counties, with a total of about 3.5 miles on federal land involved.

But Manchin said Wednesday that ruling can be changed.

“The 4th Circuit has been unmerciful on allowing any progress,” he said, adding the case can be moved to the D.C. Circuit Court.

Manchin also said the Biden administration is not helping and but can help “clarify” the FERC changes.

“We need to ramp up (the supply of natural gas),” he said, and the Marcellus Shale is the “richest formation in the world.”

Manchin is scheduled to question FERC when his committee meets at 10 a.m. this morning.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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