The Biden administration is throwing its support behind permitting reforms to speed the buildout of energy infrastructure, threading the needle between a desire for more timely development of clean energy infrastructure and the need to rein in any appearance of offering giveaways to the fossil fuel sector.
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"The president is 100% supportive of speeding up permitting, and we in the administration believe that you can do that without sacrificing the goals behind [the National Environmental Policy Act] and the other permitting rules that protect the environment," Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said March 20 during a Washington Post Live event.
The White House backed a failed push by Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat-West Virginia, late last year to move a permitting reform bill that sought to cap NEPA reviews for major infrastructure projects at two years and limit the timeframe for court challenges of related projects. It has yet to chime in on the specifics of permitting reform measures being prepared by Republicans in the House of Representatives as they prepare to bring a bill to the floor this spring. But some House Democrats have expressed concern that measures on the table would undercut the authority and discretion of land and ocean-management agencies.
Looking for 'speed'
Granholm said President Joe Biden would support permitting reform legislation that could get through the Democratic-led Senate and would also be looking at ways to ease current delays, red tape, and endless legal wrangling from the executive branch side.
Asked about what specific changes Biden would like to see in legislation, Granholm said "the administration would be supportive of just speed."
That means, she said, speeding up processes, shortening timelines, making permitting decisions concurrently instead of consecutively, and adding staff.
"We do not want bureaucracy and the bureaucratic red tape underbrush to slow the need for us to be energy secure, and to site these clean energy projects, and to make sure that the projects that are existing are retrofitted and buttoned down, especially if they're fossil infrastructure so that we don't have methane leaks ... or even any pipeline with oil and gas leaks," Granholm said.
"So there needs to be much quicker permitting of all kinds of energy infrastructure, but particularly energy infrastructure that will lead us with alacrity to getting to the goals of net zero by 2050," she added.
With the bipartisan infrastructure law, Inflation Reduction Act, and CHIPS and Science Act, US industrial policy has shifted in a direction that was out of favor in Washington for decades. Whereas policy previously leaned toward leaving the market to its own devices to achieve the best economic outcomes, the new laws inject considerable government involvement to aid the private sector in identifying and acting on opportunities to transition to cleaner energy.
"The US in bowing to the altar of free trade has allowed historically other countries to step up with their own industrial policy, their industrial strategy to lure investment offshore," Granholm contended. As a result, "our industrial base ... was hollowed out," she said, adding that she saw it firsthand as the former governor of Michigan.
The policy shift was Biden's way of demonstrating that "we are no longer just going to bring a knife to a global gun fight for these jobs," she said. Rather, "we are going to get in the game and we are going to recruit back supply chains that we have lost and be at the forefront of new technologies that we want to create."
Clean energy and clean energy products are estimated to be a $23 trillion global market by 2030, Granholm noted, and "red states are going to benefit from it as much as or even more, potentially, than blue states."
She asserted that a lot of new investment is going to traditionally red states that have generally been unpersuaded by climate science but are beginning to come around to the economic dimension of the climate debate as federal dollars to mitigate climate change begin to flow to their borders and create manufacturing and clean energy jobs.
"Industrial states, whether you're red or blue, are going to see an enormous influx of investment from these companies who are going to take advantage of [the IRA]," Granholm said. "The battery belt has shaped around Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Georgia, and those states should see that it's in their best interest to be able to embrace the companies that want to go there and give jobs to their citizens, keep their young people there."
Oil and gas states, for instance, could foster the expansion of geothermal energy, a clean baseload power source that is harnessed with the same skills already possessed by workers in the oil and gas industry, she said.