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Congress Considers Reforming Energy Project Approval Process

The Building American Energy Security Act of 2023, a new bill in Congress, is focused on reforming the current U.S. federal process for approving energy projects. The bill has the support of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is hopeful that updating the process will speed up the nation’s transition to renewables. Currently, environmental reviews for large infrastructure, mining, and energy operations can take up to 10 years to complete.

In a May hearing, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III proposed the bill to speed up clean energy project approvals.

Photo Courtesy U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Democrats

“We all know that to build an energy system fit for the 21st century, we’ll need to ensure our permitting agencies are conducting effective reviews focused on the most important issues, get to decisions much faster, and put a stop to endless second-guessing of those decisions in court,” he said in his opening remarks at the hearing. 

“Producing the American energy that we need, and the world needs, is nearly impossible with our current permitting system,” Manchin said

The new bill has bipartisan support in its goal to set enforceable timelines for agencies to complete reviews, limit the length of the reviews, and require all agencies to coordinate on one government-wide review.

The new guidelines would bring the U.S. much closer to the approval timelines of Canada, Australia, and much of Europe. 

Photo Courtesy Senator Joe Manchin III 

“In order to achieve our environmental goals, we have to build things,” said Maine Sen. Angus King. “You cannot love EVs and hate lithium mines.”

Enacting a clear time limit on federal reviews and having one single agency review all projects would help the country move forward more quickly on sustainable power projects, thus helping accomplish environmental goals efficiently. So far, the White House has prioritized permits for clean energy projects and established an interagency process to reduce duplication.

“The Administration is acting to move projects forward, using its existing authority to accelerate the federal permitting process,” the White House shared. “These actions include establishing a new interagency Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to facilitate the timely, responsible, and equitable permitting of electric transmission infrastructure.”

Photo Courtesy The White House

The act includes maximum timelines for review permits, sets a 150-day limit on any court challenges, and will designate and prioritize projects of strategic national importance.

It will also clarify the role of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s role in hydrogen facilities and transport, complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and implement a competitive salary provision from the previous Energy Act of 2020. 

“The challenge we face today is a system of regulations and procedures that are preventing the private sector from modernizing our energy production and distribution systems,” said Jason Grumet, CEO of the American Clean Power Association. While the topic of permitting reform is freighted with years of missteps, half measures, and partisan perspectives, there is good reason to believe that this Congress can develop the consensus needed to achieve our economic, security, and climate goals.

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