Republicans, Democrats report progress on permitting reform legislation

April 21, 2023

With historic climate funding secured, Congressman Peters knows we must now build clean energy projects – like interstate transmission lines – much quicker. At the US Chamber of Commerce’s Permit America To Build event, he talked about bipartisan efforts to reform outdated permitting processes.

Read more about it in this April 18th piece from the Houston Chronicle, posted below:

Republicans, Democrats report progress on permitting reform legislation

By James Osborne

April 18, 2023

A coalition of centrist Republicans and Democrats say they are getting closer to a bipartisan deal on overhauling the federal permitting process to allow faster development of infrastructure projects such as power transmission lines, natural gas pipelines and broadband networks.

At an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Senators Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., Tom Carper, D-Del., and Joe Manchin, D-W.V., along with Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif. — many of whom are leaders of key energy and environmental committees in Congress — said they would be holding hearings in the months ahead and, with broad support for permitting reform within their parties, hoped to have legislation passed this year.

Driving the momentum in part is a surge in clean energy project announcements since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act last year, which provides $370 billion in clean energy tax credits.

“On Capitol Hill, they talk about manufacturing and critical minerals, but the question the becomes how are you going to permit a mine,” Capito said. “We see a good convergence at the moment. The Democrats wants transmission.”

Under the 1970s-era National Environmental Policy Act, large infrastructure projects in the United States typically have to pass a rigorous environmental review process that can take as long as a decade — the Bureau of Land Management last week cleared the more than 700-mile Trans West Express power line 18 years after the project was first proposed.

The situation is drawing increasing pushback from U.S. corporations, with a coalition of trade associations ranging from the American Petroleum Institute to the American Council on Renewable Energy calling on Congress last month to speed up the federal permitting process, in line with far faster government environmental reviews in Canada and Australia.

“Every single president since Richard Nixon has tried to something on permitting reform,” Jason Grumet, president of the American Clean Power Association, said at the event Tuesday. “We are unleashing this clean energy revolution, but they are just announcements, so the question is are we going to get the benefit in 18 months, 3 years, 8 years or never.”

Wind and solar energy projects are being built at a fast clip across rural areas like West Texas and the Panhandle, but getting that power to urban and suburban areas where the majority of the population lives requires the construction of long distance transmission lines. At the same time natural gas companies are eager to built pipeline from gas fields in Pennsylvania and the Appalachian Mountains to the East Coast.

For Democrats looking to rapidly expand clean energy to counter scientific warnings about climate change, the delays in permitting have become increasingly concerning, said Peters, who is working on bipartisan permitting reform legislation.with Rep. Bruce Westerman, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee.

“We have NEPA to thank for a lot of environmental gains but it’s implementation process is by design slow,” Peters said. “We can’t just stop bad projects. We need to build good ones, and every day an interstate power line doesn’t get built is another day for dirty coal plants.”

The question facing the bipartisan coalition of senators and congressmen is whether they can accrue enough support within the Senate to get the 60 votes necessary to pass a permitting reform bill.

When Manchin cut a deal last year with Senate Majority Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to attach his permitting reform legislation to a must-pass military spending bill, he only secured 47 votes, with just seven Republicans voting yes.

With House Republicans now pushing permitting reform through their sprawling HR 1 energy bill, more Republican support is expected this time around.

In a speech in New York City Monday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., cited the House energy bill as something that might be used to draw Republican votes for an upcoming vote to extend the U.S. debt limit.

“I think it’s a good start,” Capito said of McCarthy’s idea Tuesday. “Putting all of HR 1 in is probably too big a bite of the apple, but (permitting reform) might be enough to satisfy some (Republicans).”

Republicans are still pushing for much larger reforms to the permitting process than Manchin did in his bill last year. And the bipartisan coalition will need to find enough compromise from Republicans to win support from climate-minded senators like Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Angus King, I-Maine, both of whom voted for Manchin’s bill last year.

“We missed a golden opportunity last year, but now we have this year,” Manchin said Tuesday. “This is a defining moment. If we don’t get it done this year, we don’t get it done.”

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