Congress may be on its way to avoiding debt default for the nation, but it could come at some environmental cost. Included in the text of the deal is a provision that would approve the remaining permits for the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline, thereby “expediting completion” of a project championed by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat.

The permitting provision – which takes up 25 of the bill’s 99 pages – identifies the pipeline by name and, noting it would carry natural gas more than 300 miles across the Virginias, it says that the pipeline is “required in the national interest” to “increase the reliability of natural gas supplies and the availability of natural gas at reasonable prices.”

But the pipeline, which is nearly complete, has undergone months of battling for its final permits and has a history of environmental concerns. And the fight to expedite its approval may not be over: the debt ceiling bill still must go through Congress, and several members are already unhappy with the inclusion of the pipeline. On Tuesday, six House Democrats filed an amendment to remove it from the bill. 

In the Senate, Democrat of Virginia, Sen. Tim Kaine, also told CBS News that he is “extremely disappointed” by the provision. 

“[It’s] bypassing the normal judicial and administrative review process every other energy project has to go through,” the spokesperson told CBS News. “This provision is completely unrelated to the debt ceiling matter.” 

If Congress were to keep the provision, it would approve “all authorizations, permits, verifications, extensions, biological opinions, incidental take statements and any other approvals or orders issued” that are necessary for its construction and operation. It would also expedite the process, so that the pipeline’s permits could be approved within 21 days of the bill’s enactment. 

What is the Mountain Valley Pipeline project? 

According to the project’s website, the pipeline would run about 303 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia, providing up to 2 million dekatherms a day of natural gas to the mid- and South Atlantic U.S. Construction on the pipeline began in 2018 and the company set a goal for it to be in service later this year. 

Manchin reintroduced legislation earlier this month to ease permitting on energy projects, including the pipeline. He has tried to attach it to larger bills but has failed. Manchin argues that permitting reform — and this pipeline — are necessary for the nation’s energy security. In April, the pipeline lost a key permit after a federal appeals court said that the state hadn’t properly assessed the impact the pipeline would have on streams and wetlands. The court said there have been at least 46 water quality violations totaling more than half a million dollars in fines, the Associated Press reported. 

A few weeks later, the U.S. Forest Service reissued another key permit that would allow the pipeline to go through about 3 1/2 miles of the Jefferson National Forest, despite past federal court rulings that developers had failed to adequately consider the environmental impact of doing so, the AP reported. 

What is the controversy surrounding the Mountain Valley Pipeline? 

The project claims that the pipeline and natural gas are “critical in providing reliable and affordable energy…as the efficient development of renewable energy sources accelerates,” while the bill says it would “reduce carbon emissions and facilitate the energy transition.” 

But while natural gas does emit about half as much carbon dioxide as coal and 30% less than oil, according to the environmental nonprofit Center for Climate Energy Solutions, emissions from natural gas combustion has increased nearly 43% since 2005. In 2021, natural gas combustion for energy made up just over a third of the nation’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Environmental group Oil Change International released an analysis in 2017 that found the pipeline would emit more than 89 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent every year — an amount that’s “like adding 26 coal plants or 19 million passenger vehicles,” the group said. 

The EIA also explains that natural gas production can create a significant amount of “contaminated water” that, if not properly handled, stored and treated, could pollute land and waterways. 

There are also environmental concerns. Since 2018, the construction of the pipeline has been subject to more than 70 complaint investigations, according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, most recently one that found there was significant erosion around a portion of the site. There have also been complaints of “muddy runoff,” an eroded waterbar channel and sediment entering waterways. 

The inclusion of this provision in the deal has outraged environmentalists. The environmental group Climate Defiance has planned protest Tuesday outside the Brooklyn, New York, home of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, whose second-largest contributor is NextEra Energy, one of the companies behind the joint venture of Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC. According to nonprofit campaign finance tracker OpenSecrets, Schumer received $302,600 from NextEra between 2017 and 2022. 

Numerous environmental groups have been fighting against the pipeline’s approval over the past year and have issued statements about the provision.

“Singling out the Mountain Valley Pipeline for the approval in a vote about our nation’s credit limit is an egregious act,” Peter Anderson, Virginia policy director of environmental organization Appalachian Voices said in a statement. “By attempting to suspend the rules for a pipeline company that has repeatedly polluted communities’ water and flouted the conditions in its permits, the president and Congress would deny basic legal protections, procedural fairness and environmental justice to communities along the pipeline’s path.”

The Center for Biological Diversity called the bill a “colossal error,” and said it “limits the public’s ability to provide input on fossil fuel projects and other destructive developments that would harm the communities most burdened by pollution, while allowing corporate polluters to effectively rubberstamp the projects they’re proposing.”

Scott MacFarlane contributed to this report.