In a recent speech in the Roosevelt Room, President Biden stressed the need for permitting reform, saying, “Right now, the process of getting clean energy projects approved is too cumbersome and too time consuming. So, I’m asking the Congress: Pass a permitting bill to speed up the approval of all kinds of energy production from wind, to solar, to clean hydrogen. Because we need to get this moving now, quickly — now.”
The president is right. The onerously long permitting process, made significantly worse by litigious activists, is a hindrance to increasing energy supplies, conservation efforts, and innovation. Meaningful permitting reform should accomplish several objectives. It should be energy source and technology neutral. Renewables, transmission lines, nuclear power, liquified natural gas exports, and mining projects would all benefit from a modernized permitting process. As Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) emphasized, it shouldn’t take longer to permit a mine in the U.S. than it took to go to the moon, especially when those mines are critical for renewable energy, batteries and nuclear power plants. Importantly, permitting
A more objective, transparent permitting process should also apply to oil and gas exploration and production. President Biden agrees. In the same speech, the president said, “You can increase oil and gas production now while still moving full speed ahead to accelerate our transition to clean energy. That way — that way, we can lower energy costs for American families, enhance our national security at a very difficult moment.”
That is the message Americans want to hear, but actions speak louder than words. Domestic oil production is up, but that is mostly in spite of the administration’s actions. Ridiculing the industry over profits, canceling the Keystone XL pipeline, asking for more supplies from OPEC+, and throwing new regulatory wrenches into the gears does not inspire a lot of confidence for American energy producers. Understanding that Americans and the rest of the world are going to need conventional fuels well into the future, it benefits the U.S. economy and the planet to have them supplied here than in less environmentally conscious parts of the world like Venezuela.
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Further, meaningful permitting reform should focus on environmental protection and outcomes rather than vague, subjective processes that are often left to the courts. Permitting should be faster, but it must respect private property rights and states’ rights. It should welcome input from the communities impacted by projects but in a way that expedites judicial review and prevents the process from being hijacked by lawyers in New York and Washington. As R Street Institute Senior Fellow Philip Rossetti pointed out, “By far, public interest groups bring forth most NEPA litigations, accounting for 59 percent of NEPA litigations between 2001 and 2013. The next largest group, at 20 percent, was individual/citizen associations. Property owners/residents and Native American tribes were among the smallest plaintiff types, at 3 percent of NEPA litigations each.”
The benefits of permitting reform are immense and widespread. Of course, investors and project developers will benefit from a more efficient process. But those benefits will trickle down to Americans in the form of lower prices, more job opportunities and enhanced energy security. America’s economy will be more robust and competitive, and it will help distribute public expenditures on energy projects more effectively. Critically, the planet will benefit, too, by getting cleaner technologies to the market and conversation projects finished much faster.
In a few short months, the United States will have a new Congress. Their top priority should be permitting reform. President Biden is right. We need to get this moving now.