Yesterday, the Biden-Harris administration outlined in a fact sheet its priorities for permitting reform to accelerate the build-out of America’s energy infrastructure “faster, safer, and cleaner.” The fact sheet provides an endorsement of the Building American Energy Security Act of 2023, establishes several major objectives for permitting reform, provides several recommendations to streamline federal permitting processes, and urges Congress to include the objectives and recommendations as part of bipartisan permitting reform legislation.
More and more voices acknowledge that the fate of our clean energy future hangs on whether clean energy projects can be approved in a timely, efficient manner. Working with Congressional leaders over the last two years, the Biden-Harris Administration delivered the largest and most ambitious climate investments in American history through the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. While these laws authorize the game-changing investments we need to fight climate change, supercharge a clean energy economy, and create millions of high-quality jobs, significant permitting-related barriers prevent or slow the pace of project development. As the fact sheet states: “building clean energy projects in the U.S. at the speed and scale needed to adequately address the climate crisis requires strategic reforms that improve the way such projects are sited and permitted at the federal, state and local levels.”
Should Congress act, the fact sheet lays out key areas where meaningful progress can be made to make permitting processes more efficient while protecting our environment, communities, and standing in the global economy. The following are summaries of the fact sheet, including the administration’s major objectives for permitting reform, recommendations for Congressional action, and examples of steps the Administration is taking or has already taken to accelerate permitting using its existing authorities.
Administration Objectives for Permitting Reform
The Administration supports reforms contained in the Building American Energy Security Act of 2023–a bill introduced by Senator Manchin last week–and encourages the inclusion of several priorities in a permitting reform package:
- Accelerate Deployment of Critical Electric Transmission. This priority makes several recommendations to address the need to “expand transmission capacity to move electric power, both onshore and offshore.”
- Accelerate Energy Project Permitting on Federal Lands. This priority urges Congress to update provisions of the Energy Act of 2020 to provide goals for 2030 and 2035, facilitate renewable energy development zones, and site necessary transmission to attach new generation to the grid. This priority also urges Congress to “authorize the development of programmatic environmental reviews and direct agencies to develop categorical exclusions” to facilitate faster development.
- Modernize America’s 150-Year-Old Mining Laws and Responsibly Develop Domestic Critical Minerals. This priority calls for the expansion and acceleration of domestic production of critical minerals “in a manner that upholds strong environmental, labor, safety, Tribal consultation, and community engagement standards,” and to encourage the U.S. to set a global standard for responsible mineral development.
- Deploy Hydrogen and Carbon Dioxide Infrastructure. This priority urges Congress to address the siting of hydrogen and carbon dioxide pipelines and storage infrastructure.
- Incentivize Redevelopment for Clean Energy Deployment. This priority urges Congress to protect clean energy developers from liability for existing contamination when they develop clean energy facilities on formerly contaminated sites, old mining sites, closed landfills, and related brownfield sites.
Recommendations to Streamline the Permitting Process
The fact sheet also makes several recommendations for Congressional action to streamline federal permitting processes, including:
- Improve Permitting Efficiency and Predictability. This recommendation encourages Congress to “improve coordination of federal data sharing and reviews, expand the use of programmatic and tiered reviews, reduce the length of federal decision documents, and set reasonable decision time frames” for new developments.
- Enhance Data Collection Needed for Effective Permitting. This recommendation calls for coordinated review and permitting among federal agencies, by using an automated, joint electronic permit application, automated workflow tools, and new permitting technologies to facilitate more efficient environmental reviews and permitting processes.
- Cut Duplicative and Burdensome Analysis and Reviews. This recommendation encourages Congress to provide for projects to rely on “analysis included in corridor-wide programmatic reviews” to limit the re-analysis of resources and impacts that have already been considered, and to reform the hydropower licensing process.
- Improve Community Engagement. This recommendation provides that agencies must continue to meaningful engage with local communities in environmental review and permitting processes, and identifies several reforms Congress could make to improve community engagement.
- Address Gaps in the Permitting Workforce. This recommendation calls for Congress to continue efforts “to ensure that the federal government has a sufficient workforce and sufficient resources” to conduct project reviews and evaluate permit applications.
- Establish Clearer Requirements for Mitigating Environmental Harms. This recommendation urges Congress to “direct agencies to use their authority to require mitigation efforts and make clear those efforts are able to satisfy environmental review requirements” to enhance efficiency and improve certainty for developers.
- Incentivize State and Local Permitting Reform and Standardization. Lastly, this recommendation calls for legislation “that either standardizes state-level permitting processes or provides financial incentives for states that adopt best practices” to accelerate the deployment of both public and privately funded projects.
Accelerating Administration Permitting Actions to Deliver Results
In the last section of the fact sheet, the Administration outlines instances where it is using or has used existing authorities to accelerate permitting. The fact sheet references the Permitting Action Plan released by the Administration last year, and identifies several next steps for the Administration:
- Transmission. The Administration announced a new interagency MOU “to facilitate the timely, responsible, and equitable permitting of electric transmission infrastructure,” to accelerate transmission line permitting. The MOU directs the Department of Energy to coordinate onshore transmission planning and permitting nationally, directs various federal agencies to conduct permit decisions and environmental reviews for transmission within two years, and provides a pathway for applicants to petition the President directly in instances where permitting schedule milestones are missed or if an authorization is denied.
- Renewable Energy on Public Land. The Administration is “on track to achieve the goal of permitting at least 25 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy on public lands by 2025.” The fact sheet notes that the Bureau of Land Management has permitted more than 130 renewable generation projects with a combined capacity of 14 GW, and further notes that BLM has 70 projects under review with a combined capacity of 32 GW.
- Modernizing and Accelerating Environmental Reviews. The Administration has “has clarified and restored basic safeguards for environmental reviews and issued guidance to agencies on how to account for climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, so fewer projects get tangled up in litigation and more projects get built right the first time.” The fact sheet further provides that the “White House Council on Environmental Quality will propose additional reforms to accelerate and improve environmental reviews, encourage early community engagement, advance environmental justice, and improve certainty and transparency for all stakeholders.”
- Offshore Wind. The Administration has set a national offshore wind deployment targeted of 30 GW by 2030; the Department of Interior approved two of the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind projects; and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is “on track to complete reviews of at least 16 project plans by 2025, representing more than 27 GW of clean energy, and has proposed reforms to modernize this process and save $1 billion over 20 years.”