Senior Vice President, Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
President, Global Energy Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
December 21, 2022
One of the lasting legacies of the 117th Congress will be billions of dollars of new investments to address crumbling infrastructure, the digital divide, and clean energy. Adoption of a Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill had been a top Chamber priority for decades, and we worked with Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to ensure this critical legislation got across the finish line in 2021. This year, Congress followed it up with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which contained even more investments in clean energy. However, those investments will be considerably delayed or even halted unless Congress improves our outdated permitting process.
Projects of all kinds are plagued with endless delays and litigation. The permitting process suffers from multiple agency roadblocks, lack of transparency and timely reviews, and numerous bites at the apple for project opponents seeking to kill projects through costly delays. As a result, many in the private sector are reluctant to tie up capital in projects, costing us jobs and the benefits associated with better, more resilient infrastructure. The average transportation project takes almost seven years just to obtain federal approval, and more complex ones can span more than a decade. The same is true for pipelines to maintain energy security and low-cost energy, transmission lines needed to connect clean energy to the grid, and other kinds of energy infrastructure.
Over the past few years, there’s been a slow but steady realization that projects such as wind and solar farms, and interstate transmission lines can also face extreme delays in today’s permitting process. Simply put, the Biden Administration’s ambitious climate goals cannot be met without a permitting overhaul. In fact, an analysis cited by the Administration about the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act even contains the important caveat that the permitting process be more streamlined.
In 2022, considerable progress in Congress has been made, making permitting improvements a realistic goal for the 118th Congress. Both Chairman Manchin and Senator Capito introduced substantive permitting reform bills. Senator Manchin made his support for IRA contingent on consideration for his package, which ultimately fell short. While Senator Manchin’s efforts didn’t result in a positive floor vote, they did serve to both raise awareness and educate members of Congress about the urgent need for improvements. While some members may never support permitting updates that could benefit traditional energy sources, most realize that permitting improvements are necessary to accommodate growing demand for and investments in solar and wind power. Therefore, permitting reform will accelerate the clean energy transition rather than impede it. What began as merely a political deal has grown to genuine, good-faith support for improvements on both sides of the aisle.
On the Republican side, Senator Capito’s comprehensive legislation was introduced with the support of the entire Republican caucus, and incoming House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman has made permitting improvements a priority. Although there were differences between the Manchin and Capito bills, they are hardly insurmountable, and progress toward bridging the gap has already been made.
Communities across the country depend on Congress taking action to cut red tape and ease delays. For 2023, we are calling on Congress to enact a bipartisan permitting modernization bill and will work with any member of Congress who will help accomplish this goal.
About the authors
Martin (Marty) Durbin is president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute (GEI). Durbin leads GEI’s efforts to build support for meaningful energy action through policy development, education, and advocacy, making it a go-to voice for commonsense energy solutions.