Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has announced that permitting reforms would be voted on later this month after he struck a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in exchange for Manchin’s support for the Inflation Reduction Act. However, progressive lawmakers are pushing back after claiming it would facilitate more oil and gas projects to be greenlit.
Even though Manchin’s summary contains provisions that benefit both clean energy and fossil fuels as well as slashing government red tape for permit applications, environmental groups isolated the fossil stipulations in his plan and labeled it as an “attack on environmental review.”
Democrats’ resistance to act accordingly on permitting reform reiterates the crucial nature of cutting red tape in order to streamline the permitting process. If unnecessary government regulations continue to get in the way of promoting clean energy, climate-related projects will remain stagnant for years.
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Under the National Environmental Policy Act, project developers in various industries are required to modernize impacts on several environmental benchmarks. Should a developer want to start a major project, a federal agency must prepare a statement whenever a project is deemed to “significantly affect the environment.”
These statements take an average of five years and cost approximately $4.2 million per review. What’s more is that 42 percent of delayed projects are clean energy projects whereas only 15 percent of delayed projects are fossil fuel projects, a testament that disproves Democrats’ worry about Manchin’s plan.
Even as these statements can run up to hundreds or thousands of pages while simultaneously costing the American taxpayers trillions of dollars, major energy and infrastructure projects are being overlooked at the behest of our federal government. In return, projects aimed at modernizing climate solutions and improving our worn-down infrastructure are placed on hold for a consequential amount of time.
In the 1970s, the average project review took around two years. From 2002-2011, that figure has nearly quadrupled for identical projects waiting for responses. It’s clear that our nation is in desperate need of permitting reform — especially at a time when America’s infrastructure needs drastic new investment.
In 50 years since its inception, NEPA has been unfairly weaponized — and that’s because of the legislation itself. The law does not provide guidance for handling counterarguments to an initiative’s plan, allowing parties to stall a project by claiming parts of the plan were neglected. From bike lanes to university enrollment increases, NEPA has been taken advantage of.
Take the Vineyard Wind offshore wind farm for instance. Almost five years after waiting to hear back from federal authorities, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released a 2,400-page statement — only for the project developers to be sued by solar investors, local residents and even a fishing company.
Instead of seizing the opportunity to flip their years-long stance, Democrats have failed to make the modernization of our medieval permitting process a bipartisan priority. The Biden administration has even proposed to reverse reforms made by the Trump administration that aimed to significantly reduce the bureaucratic red tape that is needed to complete a project’s review.
If Congress is serious about bolstering our economy and protecting America’s energy security, our lawmakers need to put party affiliation to the side and get behind a much-needed initiative that accelerates domestic energy production and prioritizes private sector investment.
As bipartisan climate solutions become mainstream, this permitting proposal can help our country kill two birds with one stone: tackle climate change and supercharge our energy security. If old infrastructure isn’t replaced by newer and more efficient energy sources, our environment gets hurt, not helped.
In order for America to have a clean future, our current permitting process needs to be fixed. Democrats have been adamant about investing in our crumbling infrastructure — now, it’s being handed to them on a silver platter. Cutting unnecessary bureaucratic red tape will not only benefit the modernization of America in the long run but will protect our nation’s environment by streamlining new energy projects and conservation efforts without having to wait for years.
America wants a clean and secure energy future and our government needs to let Americans build it. It would be a grave mistake if our lawmakers fail to embrace this once-in-a-generation opportunity.
Jorge Velasco is a contributor for C3 and has multiple bylines in the Washington Examiner, Federalist, Daily Caller and more. He is a sophomore at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government. Follow him on Twitter @velascoAjorge.