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Clean Energy Permitting Reform

Let’s Reform America’s Clean Energy
Permitting Process

We need to speed up the pace at which we build and connect new clean energy projects ⚡️

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The Benefits of Clean Energy Permitting Reform

✅ Necessary to meet America’s climate goals

Permitting reform is critical if we’re going to make the clean energy transition happen fast enough to meet our climate targets. If we don’t start building clean energy infrastructure faster, we will only achieve about 20% of the potential carbon pollution reduction from climate policy that is already in place (specifically, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022).

✅ Our biggest opportunity to cut carbon pollution in this Congress

There are serious bipartisan efforts in both the Senate and the House happening on permitting reform. Discussions are happening, and we’ve seen multiple bills from both parties introduced in Congress. Recently, 26 members of the House Climate Solutions Caucus, 13 Republicans and 13 Democrats, sent a letter to leadership asking them to prioritize climate and permitting reform. This marked the first time Republicans took such a formal stand on the importance of increased energy transmission in America.

✅ Allows for community input

Any proposed permitting reform legislation should protect the health and safety of American people and communities first. An improved permitting process would allow local communities to give real input on energy projects, and choose good projects over bad ones. Good projects should be approved faster, and harmful projects should be rejected faster.

✅ Improves air quality in disadvantaged communities

In frontline communities, lives are already being lost due to pollution from fossil fuels. Climate policy already in place (specifically, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022) could prevent up to 180,000 premature American deaths and reduce incidences of asthma and lung disease over the next decade by reducing air pollution. Permitting reform will allow us to fully realize the potential emissions cuts from that policy. That means preventing thousands more premature deaths, mostly in disadvantaged communities near sources of pollution.

Clean Energy Permitting Reform 101: What is permitting reform?

Just like you need a building permit to expand your home, big energy projects must get written approval from local, state, and/or federal authorities to start construction. Permitting is important, but it adds hefty time and expense to projects of all kinds. Permitting reform is critical if we’re going to make the clean energy transition happen fast enough to meet our climate targets.

There are three key parts to successful energy permitting reform:

1. Siting/building clean energy projects

Right now, it takes an average of 4.5 years for federal agencies just to complete environmental impact statements for major energy projects. These are important assessments, but we need them to move faster and speed up the pace with which we build new clean energy projects.

 

2. Transmitting that clean energy across the country

In the past decade, the U.S. has expanded our electricity transmission infrastructure at a pace of just 1% per year. We’ve got to speed up the pace with which we build and connect new transmission lines. Ultimately, we need to triple our current capacity to transmit clean electricity by 2050.

 

3. Involving local communities

Better permitting allows local communities to give their input on energy projects early in the process and choose good projects over bad ones. Good projects should be approved faster, harmful projects should be rejected faster, and all new projects should safeguard the lives and health of people living nearby.

 

Learn more about clean energy permitting reform:

Energy Permitting Reform FAQ

What are the ethics of permitting reform?

Permitting reform will make it easier to build clean energy infrastructure, and get that clean energy to American households and businesses. Local communities must be able to have input into projects that will directly impact them. 

 

Will permitting reform increase fossil fuel production?

Most of the new infrastructure proposed in the U.S. is now for clean energy. Reports from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory find that in 2021, 85% of new energy capacity was clean energy. More than 92% of new energy projects currently awaiting permits are solar and wind, and just 7.5% are natural gas. While a few new fossil fuel projects will be expedited, the vast majority of energy development projects will be much-needed investments in clean energy.

 

Was permitting reform included in the debt ceiling bill?

Yes. The debt ceiling deal (a.k.a. the Fiscal Responsibility Act) was signed into law in May 2023. While some provisions were controversial, it did include some measures that will help streamline clean energy permitting, including:

 

  • Designates a lead agency when multiple federal agencies are involved in the permitting of an energy project.
  • All agencies would work together on a single environmental review document rather than each agency creating duplicative work.
  • Sets time and page limits on environmental assessments and impact statements (1 and 2 years, respectively). Federal agencies will be allowed to extend the deadlines in coordination with project applicants is necessary.
  • Allows project applicants to choose to write environmental documents themselves and have agencies review them and take responsibility for their accuracy

 

Basically, it made the NEPA permitting process more efficient, speeding up the approval of new clean energy projects. But that’s only one part of the process. We still need to boost transmission projects and improve early community involvement.

 

This issue should not just be an add-on. It is important enough to warrant dedicated attention in its own comprehensive package in the future. Fortunately, momentum is building across the aisle in Congress. There are many clean energy permitting reform bills currently proposed, and we know more are coming.

 

What is the BIG WIRES Act?

The BIG WIRES Act is a current bill fostering permitting reform conversation in both the House and Senate. CCL has supported this bill in previous volunteer actions because it directly addresses the issue of energy transmission. We also held more than 350 lobby meetings in November 2023 where we pushed for its passage. Ideally, it will be passed as part of a larger, bipartisan clean energy permitting reform package.

 

What provisions do we want to see in a new permitting reform package?

Good permitting reform doesn’t just speed up new clean energy projects. We still need to bump up our capacity to transmit clean energy and improve early community input on these projects.

 

In recent years, the nation has only expanded its electricity transmission capabilities at a rate of 1% annually; well below the 2% rate seen in prior decades. Building a new electrical transmission line, on average, takes over a decade. If construction of energy infrastructure continues at this pace, we will not be able to lower our emissions at the speed and scale necessary and ensure Americans have affordable and reliable energy in the 21st century.

 

Additionally, clean energy isn’t a tradeoff. Any new projects should safeguard the lives and health of people living near them and should prioritize feedback from local communities early on in the permitting process.

 

How will permitting reform impact frontline communities?

Permitting reform should be done in a way that minimizes the negative health impacts from air pollution and other pollution in frontline communities, where lives are already being lost due to pollution from fossil fuels. Moving to clean energy will provide major health benefits for communities impacted by air pollution today. 

 

How will permitting reform affect my community?

If an energy development project is proposed in your community, you should know about it and be given the opportunity to respond in a streamlined process. Permitting reform should be done in a way that empowers communities to weigh in on what projects happen in their area. 

If you live in a rural area, permitting reform may boost jobs in your neighborhood. New clean energy projects rely on building new long distance transmission lines (a process which currently takes 10 years on average). Wind and solar farms will be built in rural areas that have abundant sun and wind. These projects will bring economic benefits and jobs to those rural areas.

 

What kind of permitting reform policies does CCL support?

We support permitting reform policies that:

 

  • Add to America’s capacity to transmit clean electricity
  • Speed up the approval of clean energy projects that are waiting to be built
  • Allow communities to make their voices heard on the environmental and other impacts of proposed energy projects.

 CCL also recognizes the political realities of our democratic system, which forces compromise among lawmakers who have a range of priorities. As we begin to work on this issue, we will evaluate any permitting reform proposals in the context of our principles outlined here.