More Democrats urge Pelosi to keep energy 'side deal' out of funding bill

FILE PHOTO - U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attends news conference in Washington

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A growing number of Democrats in the U.S. House oppose fellow party member Senator Joe Manchin's energy-permitting bill that speeds fossil fuel projects including a natural gas pipeline in his state of West Virginia.

U.S. Representative Raul Griljalva said on Monday that 77 Democrats in the House have signed a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi opposing the measure, a side deal that clinched Manchin's support for the Inflation Reduction Act that President Joe Biden signed last month.

The tally was up from 72 signatures last week.

The letter said provisions in the permitting bill will "allow polluting manufacturing and energy development projects to be rushed through before the families who are forced to live near them are even aware of the plans."

It would also "restrict public access to the courts to seek remedies against illegal project development" and weaken the Clean Water Act, the letter said.

The Democrats urged Pelosi to keep the legislation out of a bill to temporarily fund the government through mid-December, or any other must-pass legislation. That bill, known as a continuing resolution, must get 60 votes in an initial vote likely this month in the 50-50 Senate.

The issue illustrates a divide among Democrats ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections in which the party hopes to keep control of Congress. The White House, Senate Leader Chuck Schumer and Pelosi have indicated support for the permitting bill.

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who aligns with Democrats, said last week he opposes the "disastrous" side deal "that the fossil fuel industry is pushing to make it easier for them to pollute the environment and destroy the planet."

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from West Virginia, introduced her own energy-permitting bill on Monday. It would speed approval of Equitrans Midstream Corp's long-delayed, $6.6 billion, West Virginia-to-Virginia natural gas Mountain Valley Pipeline within 21 days of enactment.

Senator Richard Shelby, also a Republican, said he did not know if a permitting bill could be attached to the funding bill but Capito's legislation could be a "worthy alternative."

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Himani Sarkar)