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Transurban donates $100K to community organizations

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ALEXANDRIA, VA Transurban, one of the world’s largest toll-road operators and developers of the 495, 95 and 395 Express Lanes, donated to Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS) and the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial today, following a “Drive to Donate” event on November 17.

“We pride ourselves on being a good neighbor and long-term partner to communities in the Greater Washington Area,” said Pierce Coffee, president of Transurban North America. “NVFS and the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial are two organizations working to advance critical community needs while preserving and honoring the unique history of Northern Virginia. Together with our customers, we are pleased to offer funds that help continue their efforts and our commitment as a company to giving back.”

The event, Coffee added, was designed to coincide with the second anniversary of the opening of the 395 Express Lanes and continue Transurban’s work of investing in the communities it operates in. Such work includes a decade-long community grant and sponsorship program that has supported over 300 regional organizations.

“When we reflect on the past two years and ways the 395 Express Lanes have delivered on improvements for the Greater Washington Area, we count organizations supported and local partners engaged at the top of Transurban’s list of successes – on par with operational achievements such as over 1.4 million hours in travel saved, 8,700 jobs created regionally, and $1 billion in economic activity generated,” said Amanda Baxter, vice president of operations for Transurban North America. “Our ongoing work with local organizations, including NVFS and the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, is a critical part of who we are and what we do.”


NVFS, a longtime Transurban partner, helps families and individuals in need create stability with a wide range of critical services. Each year, it empowers over 35,000 Northern Virginians to achieve self-sufficiency.

“We’re grateful for the support provided by those drivers who started their morning on the 395 Express Lanes on November 17 and to Transurban for their continued partnership,” said Stephanie Berkowitz, president and CEO at NVFS. “This donation will support programs that provide the essential building blocks for financial, emotional and physical well-being for individuals and families to improve their quality of life.”

The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial was created to preserve the memories of those lost and the day’s tremendous significance on our nation’s history.

“As neighbors to the 395 Express Lanes, we share a common commitment with Transurban and the Express Lanes team to preserve the unique history of this corridor and invest in its future vitality,” said Jim Laychak, executive director of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, Inc. “We are honored to be recipients of the ‘Drive to Donate’ event. This donation, along with the previous donation, will go toward the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial Visitor Education Center to ensure there is always a place for future generations to learn what happened and never forget the events at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.”

To commemorate the opening of the 395 Express Lanes in 2019, Transurban chose to honor the legacy of September 11 heroes by donating $1 million to the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. Its partnership with NVFS also goes back years and includes prior donations of $60,000 toward COVID-19 relief and other recovery programs.

To learn more about Transurban or the 395 Express Lanes, visit www.expresslanes.com.


About Transurban North America

Transurban is one of the world’s largest toll-road operators and developers, working to get people where they want to go, as quickly and safely as possible. By embracing collaboration with government, our public-private partnerships are delivering transformative infrastructure solutions across five markets. In fiscal year 2021, our global customers saved 376,000 hours on average each workday across 2 million trips on our roads with faster, more predictable travel options. With a leading market share of transportation P3 investment in North America, we are pioneering travel solutions like dynamically tolled Express Lanes and are partnering with government to think about the policies, technology and infrastructure that will get you home today and ten years from now. Learn more about Transurban North America at: Transurban.com | Expresslanes.com | A25.com

About the Express Lanes operated by Transurban

The 395, 95 and 495 Express Lanes provide drivers in Northern Virginia with faster and more predictable travel options. The Express Lanes stretch more than 53 miles through northern Virginia. Thanks to a public-private partnership between the Virginia Department of Transportation and Transurban, the Express Lanes give drivers reliable travel choices on the region’s most congested roadways. For more information, head to ExpressLanes.com.

About Northern Virginia Family Service

Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS) ensures that everyone in need, at every stage of life, maximizes their potential and fully contributes to a thriving community. It provides the essential building blocks for financial, emotional and physical well-being and, each year, empowers over 35,000 families and individuals to achieve self-sufficiency.

About the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial

The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial preserves the memories of those lost and the day’s tremendous significance on our nation’s history. The Pentagon Memorial Fund is now working to raise the funds to create a Visitor Education Center to complement the Pentagon Memorial and tell the story of how our country responded and continues to respond to the events of 9/11.

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U.S. House GOP outlines agenda in bid for control in the midterms

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WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans gathered inside a warehouse in Southwestern Pennsylvania on Friday to outline the legislation they will try to enact if voters give them back control of that chamber following the November midterm elections.

Speaking from an HVAC factory in Monongahela, about an hour south of Pittsburgh, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said the first bill he’d bring to the floor if elected speaker would repeal part of a Democratic law that boosted funding for the Internal Revenue Service.

“On that very first day that we’re sworn in, you’ll see that it all changes because on our very first bill, we’re going to repeal 87,000 IRS agents,” McCarthy said, using a number Democrats have repeatedly said isn’t an accurate representation of what the funding boost would do. “Our job is to work for you, not go after you.”

None of the proposals that were sketched out came with a price tag showing how much a Republican House would change spending compared to current levels. Republicans also said they’d “protect the lives of unborn children and their mothers” but did not detail exactly what nationwide abortion restrictions they’d bring to the floor or how they’d address maternal mortality rates.


Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, who would likely move from whip to majority leader if his party regained control, said Republicans would put forward bills to reduce inflation and bring down energy costs.

“We wanted to lay out a bold, conservative vision to show the country there’s hope again,” Scalise said. “The commitment to America is going to show the country, if you give us a Republican majority in the House, these are the things we will do.”

Democrats broadly panned the Republicans’ rollout of their plan.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said during a speech in Pittsburgh that the House GOP’s “new platform, which isn’t new at all, is long on slogans and short on details.”

Campaigns underway

Democrats narrowly hold the House, maintaining 221 seats to Republicans’ 212 members, with two vacancies.

Both parties are pouring millions of dollars into swing districts throughout the country, hoping to convince voters that their vision for the country’s future is the best path forward following a tumultuous few years that included a pandemic, a Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection by Donald Trump supporters hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and record inflation.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade this summer, ending half a century of a constitutionally protected right to an abortion, is also playing out on the campaign trail.

Democrats have repeatedly urged voters to reject GOP abortion policies by keeping them in control of both chambers of Congress, while Republicans have tried to sidestep the issue in some more contentious races.

Pennsylvania Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate John Fetterman has highlighted Republican candidate Mehmet Oz’s relative silence on a new bill from South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham that would cap most abortions at 15 weeks nationwide.

“Oz is a fraud who does not even have the guts to give a yes or no answer when it comes to how we would vote on the abortion ban bill that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate,” Fetterman said in a statement Friday. “He’s dodging this very real question and thinks Pennsylvanians won’t notice.”

That close race in the Keystone State and others likely drew the Republicans and Hoyer to its southwest corner on Friday.

Four planks

The Republicans’ Commitment to America has four broad planks. Three focus on economic issues, national security and crime, and government transparency. The fourth includes health care, technology, and education policy.

The economic category proposes a Republican-held U.S. House would reduce government spending, though it declines to say where lawmakers would cut federal funding. It also says the party would boost domestic energy production and expand U.S. manufacturing.

To address national security issues, the House GOP plans to “fully fund effective border enforcement strategies,” support 200,000 additional police officers through bonuses and “invest in an efficient, effective military.”

House Republicans say if voters give them back control of that chamber, they will create a “future built on freedom,” in part by preventing transgender women from competing in women’s sports and lowering health care prices by boosting competition.

The proposal also calls for the GOP to “save and strengthen” Social Security and Medicare, though it doesn’t provide details about how they’d change the longstanding popular social programs that primarily serve the elderly.

Those two entitlement programs and Medicaid are categorized as mandatory government spending, meaning they run mostly on autopilot and represent the fastest-growing section of federal spending.

Abortion bills

Under the section on government accountability, Republicans tackle abortion without specifics, though during this session of Congress, House Republicans have introduced more than 100 bills addressing abortion in some way.

One bill, from Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Mike Kelly, would bar abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy and sometimes before a woman knows she’s pregnant.

The measure, which has 123 co-sponsors, has an exemption for abortions that are essential to save the pregnant patient’s life, but not for rape or incest.

Legislation from West Virginia Rep. Alex Mooney, backed by 166 co-sponsors, would “implement equal protection for the right to life” at the moment of fertilization.

The legislation doesn’t detail if or when women would be able to access abortions, including in cases of ectopic pregnancies, which are never viable, or miscarriages that sometimes require the same medications or procedures as elective abortions.

A 20-week abortion ban, sponsored by New Jersey Rep. Christopher Smith, has the backing of 173 House Republicans. The proposal includes exceptions after 20 weeks of pregnancy if it’s the result of rape or incest, but only if the patient “has obtained counseling for the rape” or “has obtained medical treatment for the rape or an injury related to the rape.”

A child whose pregnancy results from rape or incest would be allowed abortion after 20 weeks if the minor has reported the crime to a “government agency legally authorized to act on reports of child abuse,” or law enforcement, under Smith’s legislation.

Abortions after 20 weeks would also be legal if the pregnancy would endanger the patient’s life because of a physical illness or injury, but not “psychological or emotional conditions.”

Investigations promised

U.S. House Republicans at the rollout celebration Friday didn’t mention their abortion proposals but detailed many other aspects of their plan for a GOP majority, including investigations.

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan pledged that various committees would hold investigations into the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the origins of COVID-19, and various actions by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“We are committed to doing the investigations that need to be done,” Jordan said. “After all, that is part of our constitutional duty, to do the oversight and make sure you, the country, we, the people, have the facts and the truth.”

On education policy, Louisiana Rep. Julia Letlow said Republicans would bring up her so-called Parents Bill of Rights, which would impose new national regulations on state and local education bodies.

The legislation would require local education agencies to post curricula for elementary and secondary schools on a public website or widely disseminate them to the community if they don’t have a website.

Local education agencies would need to create annual report cards detailing all revenues and expenditures for the entire school system as well as each school.

“This is common sense legislation. It’s just about providing transparency for us,” Letlow said. “And so you, as a parent, should always — the first and foremost thing, be able to view your child’s curriculum.”

“And then secondly, if you don’t like what you find, if you don’t like what you see, you should be able to go to your school board and lawfully tell them this needs to change. You should have that right as a parent,” she added.

Parents would also be granted the right to know if states change their academic standards, to meet at least twice a year with their child’s teacher, to review the books and reading material in the school library, and to receive information about violence within the school.

Democrats push back

Hoyer, in Pittsburgh, said there were few specifics from Republicans “because the true details of Republicans’ agenda are too frightening for most American voters. Details matter, however.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that Republicans’ policy goals threaten “to criminalize women’s health care, slash seniors’ Medicare and raise prescription drug prices, and attack our free and fair elections.”

“These appalling proposals have long been advanced by right-wing politicians and are widely supported by the dark money special interests who call the shots in the GOP,” the California Democrat said. “But this extreme MAGA agenda is way out of step with Americans’ priorities, who align with Democrats’ vision of putting people over politics: with lower costs, better-paying jobs and safer communities.”

President Joe Biden, speaking at a Democratic National Committee event at the National Education Association headquarters in Washington, D.C., rebuked House Republicans’ plan, saying it was “a thin series of policy goals, with little or no detail.”

by Jennifer Shutt, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Release of Adnan Syed focuses attention on Maryland wrongful prosecutions

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BALTIMORE – Attorney Erica Suter recalled the disbelief in the voice of her high-profile client, Adnan Syed, the subject of the viral podcast “Serial,” when the judge told him he was being released from prison after 23 years for a murder Syed says he did not commit.

“At the trial table, he turned to me and said, ‘I can’t believe it’s real,’” Suter said.

Troy Burner, 50, remembers that feeling. Burner, who also lives in Maryland, spent 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit before a judge ruled in 2018 that, like Syed, prosecutors had failed to give him a fair trial.

According to records and attorneys at the Innocence Project, Syed and Burner are just two of thousands of cases of wrongful prosecution.


At least 3,000 exonerated individuals in the U.S. have spent a combined 25,000 years of their lives behind bars due to wrongful prosecution as of March 2022, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a database compiled by the University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law.

They were there because of false confessions, failures to disclose relevant evidence, and criminal justice systems lacking reform have led to thousands of wrongful prosecutions, said Suter, an attorney in the Office of the Public Defender.

“It’s not just one factor,” said Suter, also the director of the Innocence Project Clinic in Baltimore. “It’s a function of how our system was designed.”

Syed was freed after a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge ruled the prosecution had withheld critical evidence at his trial that could have prevented his conviction.

Syed’s release points to the prevalence of such prosecutorial conduct. In Baltimore, Suter said that 80% of recorded exonerations involved the state withholding evidence.

In 2021, there were 161 exonerations in the U.S., and official misconduct occurred in 102 of those cases, according to the national registry. Of the 102 cases with official misconduct, 59 were homicide cases.

When prosecutorial misconduct is found, seldom are there repercussions, according to studies.

The Chicago Tribune, one of the nation’s premier publications, looked into 11,000 homicide cases nationwide between 1963 and 1999 with prosecutorial misconduct. The publication found that out of the cases with substantial prosecutorial misconduct, “not a single state disciplinary agency publicly sanctioned any of the prosecutors,” according to The Innocence Project’s Prosecutorial Oversight report.

The Liman Prosecutorial Misconduct Research Project at Yale University conducted a study that surveyed disciplinary practices and ethical rules of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., and found that the workers who are most likely to find prosecutorial misconduct, such as prosecutors and defense attorneys, do not report it because they work in “a culture that does not support reporting, poor administrative processes and professional disincentives,” according to the oversight report.

There may or may not be repercussions in Syed’s case, said State’s Attorney for Baltimore Marilyn Mosby. Part of the reason is establishing intent from the prosecutor, she said.

“Sometimes it’s due to negligence,” Mosby said. “Sometimes it’s intentional. It’s really difficult to prove an intentional sort of misconduct.

“I have not yet seen any vindictive prosecution. I haven’t seen any sort of charges or appeals that are lodged against prosecutors. You have to establish intent, and oftentimes negligence is not criminal intent.”

Arrested at 17 for allegedly killing his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, Syed could have spent the rest of his life in prison if it weren’t for Maryland’s Juvenile Restoration Act.

Passed by the General Assembly in 2021, the law says individuals who were arrested at the time of the crime as a juvenile and have served at least 20 years can request the court to take another look at their sentence.

Syed remains under house detention for the next 27 days, awaiting a decision from Mosby’s office whether he will be retried or exonerated.

In an interview with Capital News Service, Mosby said her decision is dependent on the outcome of the DNA evidence connected with Syed’s case.

“If the DNA comes back and it’s some other person, then clearly, I’m going to go in, and I’m going to certify his innocence,” she said. “But if it comes back to him, then that’s a consideration, in light of all the negative contributing factors that we utilize to ask for a new trial.”

Suter said she expects to see a new trial date set for 2023 because the state must decide within 30 days from Syed’s release Monday whether to retry the case, and the results of the tests of the DNA evidence probably will not be back before then. A new trial date, however, does not mean the state will retry Syed.

Even if the case is dropped, Syed will have spent more than half of his life in prison.

Burner said nothing could make up for his time spent in prison. He said he spent half of his life behind bars based on five false and ever-changing testimonies of one witness who placed him at a Washington, D.C., crime scene.

In Burner’s case, he was released from prison because of the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act of 2016, which allows people under 18 years of age to petition the court for a retrial after the crime they served at least 15 years.

He was convicted in 1994 for a murder he did not commit and sentenced to 30 years to life in prison.

“I lay [in prison] multiple times a day, and I just sit there, and to be quite frank, in my mind, I will say, I wish that I did actually do it because, for me, that would have satisfied my conscience that I was in there for a reason,” Burner said.

At the time of his conviction, Burner said he was an amateur boxer hoping to go professional. He also worked for the Department of Public and Assisted Housing, now the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He said he was one month away from being certified in home building and maintenance repair.

His hopes and dreams were crushed after being convicted, he said.

“Going into the courtroom, I can still remember today and hear the screams from my mom,” Burner said. “I went in feeling like a dead-beat, and I failed in many ways.”

Burner was released on parole in 2018 and exonerated from his charges in March 2020.

Under Washington, D.C.’s compensation bill, Burner should have received $200,000 for every year spent in prison. A portion of Burner’s compensation was devoted to the Venable-Burner Exoneree Support Fund, which provides financing to hire mentors and navigators for exonerees to help them re-enter the world after being released from prison, he said.

Under Maryland’s exoneree compensation law, which went into effect July 1, 2022, Syed would receive the state’s median annual income for each year he was imprisoned.

Burner said he found his purpose working with the Justice Policy Institute and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, advocating and building awareness for wrongfully convicted people like him.

“I’m a fighter by nature,” Burner said. “So, I understand when you lose that hope, you lose yourself. So, being here now, I just try to be and create and show that hope that guys [who] aspire to one day, see the world again, that they got somebody out here working for them.”

By Abby Zimmardi and Shannon Clark 
Capital News Service 

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Beagles rescued from Virginia dog-breeding facility get star treatment in D.C.

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A beagle was rescued from the Envigo medical dog-breeding facility in Cumberland County, Virginia, at a Capitol Hill event on Sept. 22, 2022. (Jennifer Shutt / States Newsroom D.C. Bureau)

WASHINGTON — Now-famous beagles rescued from a breeding and research facility in Virginia were on Capitol Hill on Thursday as an animal welfare group and a California congressman pushed for legislation that would promote the adoption of research animals.

“It’s unfortunate that animals are still allowed to be used in testing. That hopefully is going to go away very, very soon. But while it’s happening, we can do better,” said Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-California.

The beagles came from a controversial Envigo medical dog-breeding facility in Cumberland County that shut down under pressure from federal regulators because of a string of animal welfare violations, the Virginia Mercury has reported.  Federal agents in May seized hundreds of dogs and puppies found to be “in acute distress.”


A judge in July approved a plan to move 4,000 beagles from the facility to shelters for adoption, making national headlines. One adopter turned out to be Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and her husband, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, who are now living in California.

Virginia lawmakers pass new regulations for controversial beagle breeding facility

On Thursday, several of the beagles were at the Capitol to get petted and shown off at a “meet and greet” and to help make a point about animal research.

Cárdenas, a California Democrat, introduced a bill last October that would require any facility receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health to make “reasonable efforts” to adopt any dog, cat, or rabbit deemed suitable for adoption once that animal is no longer needed for biomedical and behavioral research.

The legislation has just four other co-sponsors: Joe Neguse of Colorado, Jimmy Panetta of California, Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey, and Dina Titus of Nevada.

When asked about the strategy for reaching the level of support the bill would need to clear the House and the Senate, Cárdenas told States Newsroom that he plans to push back on criticism from the medical research industry that the measure is “too onerous.”

“I don’t buy that,” he said.

Monica Engebretson, North America campaign manager for Cruelty-Free International, said 15 states require animal research facilities to offer dogs and cats they no longer want for adoption. But she believes a nationwide law is needed.

Engebretson said the group has had some success in the past in getting policy changes enacted through the annual legislation that funds the NIH, which is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, and hopes to do so again with this current policy proposal.

The NIH’s website says that it’s “committed to continuing to develop non-animal model alternative methods.” However, it notes that “we are not at a point where alternative approaches can completely replace the use of animals at this time.”

“The alternatives simply cannot accurately replicate or model all the biologic and behavioral aspects of human disease,” NIH writes. “Until that time, animal models will remain integral for NIH-supported research.”

The NIH also has an Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. But neither its Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals nor its Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals includes any proposals or suggestions for whether cats, dogs, and bunnies should be available for adoption after they are no longer needed.

The office notes on its website that it “supports the safety and protection of animals and reminds institutions that their policies must clarify the disposition of animals acquired for research once the research has ended, which may include adoption.” It also says it “will not assume legal or financial responsibility for any adoption program” of research animals.

by Jennifer Shutt, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Kaine says Mountain Valley Pipeline provision in Manchin bill ‘could open the door to serious abuse and even corruption’

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Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine (D) on Thursday sharply criticized a provision of the federal energy permitting reform bill that would force the completion of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline, saying that “it could open the door to serious abuse and even corruption.”

“If they demonstrate on the merits that they should be entitled to build a pipeline … then build it by all means,” Kaine said in a lengthy speech on the U.S. Senate floor. “But don’t embrace the need for permitting reform and then choose one project in the entire United States affecting my state and pull it out of permitting reform, insulating it from the normal processes.”

The completion of the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline, intended to carry gas from the Marcellus shale fields in West Virginia to southern Virginia, has been a political flashpoint in Virginia since it was first proposed in 2014.

Opposition to the project has led to numerous court challenges, a settlement with Virginia over more than 300 environmental violations, and the yanking of multiple federal permits by judges in the Richmond-based U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Today, most of the unfinished portion of the pipeline lies in Virginia’s Giles, Craig and Montgomery counties.


This August, the project grabbed national attention when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, said he had agreed to support Democrats’ sweeping Inflation Reduction Act in exchange for approval of separate legislation to reform the nation’s energy permitting processes. A one-page summary of what the legislation would do included the completion of Mountain Valley.

The text of the bill, which was released Wednesday, would require the federal government to issue outstanding permits for the project within 30 days, including authorizations from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect endangered species, from the Bureau of Land Management to allow the pipeline to cross the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia and from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve its remaining crossing of federal waters.

The legislation says that none of those actions would be subject to review by the courts. Additionally, it would transfer any other legal action related to the pipeline or challenges to the act itself from the 4th Circuit to the D.C. Circuit.

On Thursday, Kaine said Congress should not interfere with specific judicial and administrative review cases and called the transfer of jurisdiction away from the 4th Circuit “a very, very dangerous precedent.”

“What ground would there be for such a historic rebuke of my hometown federal circuit court, to say that just because they ruled against a powerful energy corporation, we will in an unprecedented way strip jurisdiction away from them in a pending case that is midstream and not allow them to hear it?” he asked.

Manchin’s proposal, known as the Energy Independence and Security Act, is attached to Congress’ stopgap spending bill, which is intended to keep the government operating after the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. A vote on the spending bill is expected next week.

Manchin’s office did not respond to a request for comment about Kaine’s remarks.

by Sarah Vogelsong, Virginia Mercury

 


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Manchin permitting reform bill includes approval of Mountain Valley Pipeline

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WASHINGTON – The energy permitting proposal that centrist Democrat U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III made a condition of his support for the Inflation Reduction Act would impose timelines on federal agencies responsible for approving energy projects, according to the text of the measure released late Wednesday.

Congressional Democrats are deeply divided over the Manchin permitting bill, with some on the left worried it would remove tools for communities to oppose projects with major environmental impacts. The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, blasted the Manchin plan on Wednesday night and said, “My colleagues and I don’t want this.”

A provision in the legislation to approve the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia and Manchin’s home state of West Virginia also alienated Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who said he was not consulted and raised strong objections.

“I cannot support the Mountain Valley Pipeline-related provisions in this legislative text,” he said in a statement. “Over 100 miles of this pipeline are in Virginia, but I was not included in the discussions regarding the MVP provisions and therefore not given an opportunity to share Virginians’ concerns. In that sense, I stand in the same position as many of my constituents who have felt ignored along the way.”


Meanwhile, Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley is leading a letter from Senate progressives urging separate votes on a must-pass stopgap spending measure and the permitting legislation, according to a Politico report.

Adding to problems, the top Senate Republican on the chamber’s spending committee told States Newsroom Wednesday afternoon that the inclusion of the permitting measure and other provisions may make the stopgap bill unworkable.

But Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has continued to say the Manchin plan will be included in the stopgap spending bill to keep the government open when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

Details on Manchin plan

The Manchin bill would not remove any federal permitting requirements.

Instead, it would prescribe timelines for federal agencies to complete their reviews, including a two-year target for National Environmental Policy Act reviews on major projects. Such reviews can take up to 10 years, Manchin has said.

The bill includes a section requiring federal agencies to approve the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline, which has been partially constructed to send natural gas from West Virginia to southern Virginia, upsetting Kaine.

Federal climate deal could force completion of Mountain Valley Pipeline

The bill would also set a five-month limit on court challenges and require federal agencies to act within six months when a court remands a decision to them.

Manchin’s proposal would also designate a lead federal agency to coordinate project reviews. The lead agency would monitor requirements and deadlines set at the state level.

Manchin and other supporters of the measure have said it’s needed to deliver energy from renewable sources like wind and solar.

“If you’re going to build a wind farm or a solar farm in the middle of the desert where there’s no people … you’ve got to have permitting reform to get it done,” Manchin said Tuesday. “You’re not going to be able to deliver the energy that people need.”

American Clean Power Association Heather Zichal said that “as renewable energy projects become more prevalent … we must consider reasonable permitting reforms that preserve the substance of bedrock environmental laws while expediting the review process under them.”

But other environmental groups have already come out in opposition to the measure.

“Building a clean energy future that benefits all Americans cannot start by silencing frontline communities and eroding the laws that protect our access to clean air and water,” said Southern Environmental Law Center Director of Federal Affairs Nat Mund in a statement. “It’s absurd to suggest this deal, early versions of which were literally covered with fossil fuel lobbyists’ digital fingerprints, will do anything but exacerbate climate change at the expense of communities that depend on clean air and water that this proposal threatens.”

Progressive opposition

Members of Senate Democrats’ progressive wing have for weeks criticized potential permitting reforms, which they say would remove power from local communities seeking to challenge pipelines and other projects.

Merkley, the chairman of the Senate appropriations panel on Interior and environmental agencies, and Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, all reportedly signed on to the letter calling for separate votes on the permitting bill and the stopgap bill — which would allow senators to stake out a clear position on the Manchin plan.

A spokeswoman for Merkley confirmed the Politico report but declined to comment further or provide a copy of the letter Wednesday.

“We are making clear we would like a separate vote — a separate debate and a separate vote — on the permitting process,” Warren told reporters Wednesday.

More than 70 House Democrats sent a similar letter to leaders of their caucus earlier this month.

Grijalva, who spearheaded House Democrats’ letter, issued a strong statement in opposition to the Manchin proposal.

The measure shortens public comment periods, provides fewer ways for communities to oppose projects and weakens enforcement of foundational environmental and public health laws, the Arizona Democrat said.

Federal court (again) overturns (another) Mountain Valley Pipeline permit

“These dangerous permitting shortcuts have been on industry wish lists for years,” he said. “And now they’ve added the Mountain Valley Pipeline approval as the rotten cherry on top of the pile. The very fact that this fossil fuel brainchild is being force-fed into must-pass government funding speaks to its unpopularity.”

Kaine, who recently reintroduced separate legislation with Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner to increase public input and notification requirements for pipelines as well as clarify the circumstances under which eminent domain can be exercised, said he agreed “with the need to reform our broken process for permitting infrastructure” but disagreed with the congressional approval of the pipeline.

“Green-lighting the MVP is contrary to the spirit of permitting reform,” he said. “Such a deliberate action by Congress to put its thumb on the scale and simply approve this project while shutting down opportunities for full administrative or judicial review is at odds with the bipartisan desire to have a more transparent and workable permitting process.”

In a statement accompanying the bill announcement, Manchin repeated that Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House had all agreed to pass the legislation, which was part of a deal this summer to pass the Inflation Reduction Act.

The Democrats opposed to the bill have not threatened to vote against the combined measure and risk a government shutdown.

Spending bill pitfalls

With annual government funding set to expire at the end of the month, Congress is expected to consider very soon a short-term bill to keep the government open for the coming months.

Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he and fellow GOP lawmakers may filibuster the short-term government funding bill — which would need Republican support to pass — if Democrats add too many additional provisions.

That means they would not supply the 10 Republican votes needed for any legislation to advance in the evenly divided Senate.

“What could be telling would be when Schumer puts the legislation on the floor and there’s a motion to proceed, subject to debate, subject to 60 votes — that vote will be indicative of maybe things to come if he’s loaded it up with extraneous things,” Shelby said. “It probably won’t carry that well.”

When asked about Manchin’s permitting reform bill, which at that point had not been made public, and Schumer’s commitment to add it to the must-pass government funding bill, Shelby said, “I think it’s going to be hard to carry that.”

“We haven’t seen the language of it,” he said. “But it’s a raw political deal.”

by Jacob Fischler, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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U.S. House passes bill reforming Electoral Count Act to stop Jan. 6 repeat

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Wednesday passed a bill updating a 19th-century law in an attempt to prevent the subversion of future presidential elections.

The Presidential Election Reform Act, which passed 229-203, is meant to deter a repeat of the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, in which the U.S. Capitol was attacked by a mob of pro-Trump supporters trying to stop Congress from certifying the presidential electoral votes.

Nine House Republicans joined Democrats in voting for H.R. 8873, which would revamp the Electoral Count Act.

“If your aim is to prevent future efforts to steal elections, I would respectfully suggest that conservatives should support this bill,” Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, said on the House floor. “If, instead, your aim is to leave open the door for elections to be stolen in the future, you might decide not to support this or any other bill to address the electoral count.”


Cheney, along with Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece on Sunday that the bill “is intended to preserve the rule of law for all future presidential elections by ensuring that self-interested politicians cannot steal from the people the guarantee that our government derives its power from the consent of the governed.”

On the House floor, Lofgren said the bill “will make it harder to convince people that they have the right to overthrow the election.”

Both lawmakers are part of the House special committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The bill raises the threshold for an objection to a state’s electoral vote from one member of each chamber to one-third of each chamber, a big increase, and makes it clear that the vice president’s role in certifying electoral votes is purely ceremonial.

GOP objections

A majority of Republicans pushed back against the bill, with Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois labeling it partisan and Rep. Bryan Steil of Wisconsin calling the process rushed.

Davis said that Democrats were perpetuating a false narrative that Republicans are election deniers and want to overturn elections, while Steil said that Americans have lost faith in their election system, and the bill does not do anything to quell those fears.

“Will the bill before us boost people’s confidence in our elections process?” Steil asked. “The bill fails the test.”

Virginia’s U.S. House delegation split on party lines Wednesday, with all Democratic representatives voting for the bill and all Republicans voting against it.

The House Rules Committee held a hearing on the measure Tuesday and voted 9-3 to send the legislation to the House floor. All Democrats in that committee voted for the bill, and all the Republicans who voted opposed it.

Trump actions

The push to clarify the election certification process comes after former President Donald Trump tried to pressure former Vice President Mike Pence to block the 2020 presidential election results certification.

The Jan. 6 insurrection, spurred by Trump, shortly followed. Four people who were part of the mob died, and five police officers responding to the insurrection also died in the days and weeks following.

Current law allows a congressional representative paired with a senator to object to a state’s electoral votes, which Republicans did. But they were interrupted from their objections when the mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.

Because the vice president’s role in the certification of electoral votes isn’t exactly clear, Trump tried to pressure Pence not to certify the election.

Trump was impeached by the House for a second time for his role in the insurrection.

Senate version

The future of the House measure is unclear because the Senate is working on its own legislation.

The Senate held an August hearing where Sens. Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat, argued for the need to update the 1887 electoral law.

The senators said the current law is archaic and ambiguous and that their bill had several reforms, including clarification of the role of the vice president when certifying electoral votes.

Collins announced Wednesday she had 10 Democratic and 10 Republican co-sponsors for the bill, meaning its passage could reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance past a filibuster in the Senate.

“Our bill is backed by election law experts and organizations across the ideological spectrum,” Collins said in a statement. “We will keep working to increase bipartisan support for our legislation that would correct the flaws in this archaic and ambiguous law.”

Those 10 Senate Democrats include Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Warner of Virginia, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Chris Coons of Delaware, John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Alex Padilla of California.

The 10 Senate Republicans include Collins, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Todd Young of Indiana, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

by Ariana Figueroa, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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