American infrastructure projects take far too long to move through Washington’s many permitting and review hoops. From bureaucratic red tape to legal challenges and delays, critical infrastructure projects that bring reliable, affordable energy and good-paying jobs to U.S. communities are slowed down often to the point of outright cancellation, and the losers are America’s workers, families, and businesses.
America’s building trades unions and industry leaders agree with President Biden: it’s time for permitting reform. Last month in remarks supporting proposed legislation to reform the way infrastructure projects are permitted and reviewed, the President said project delays affect the energy supply Americans need, becoming an “impediment to our economic growth, for creating new jobs, and for lessening our reliance on foreign imports.”
He is absolutely right. Major construction projects and renewable energy projects, as well as projects for natural gas and oil, are hamstrung by the regulatory maze, restricting Americans’ access to critical infrastructure and affordable, reliable energy. While permitting reform was supposed to follow passage of the Inflation Reduction Act last summer, America continues to wait.
A recent study found that at least 10 major energy infrastructure projects, representing more than $34 billion in private spending, were canceled or risked cancellation due to reams of red tape. Countless others have been stalled – each representing squandered economic growth and energy denied from our grid. One of the biggest sticking points for the permitting of these projects is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). According to a 2017 study, $157 billion in energy investment was trapped in the NEPA pipeline.
In Appalachia alone, pipeline projects that would deliver 4.6 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas for families and businesses could support thousands of well-paying American jobs and inject $19 billion in private spending into local and regional economies. But instead, their benefit remains unrealized.
Consider this: Preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under NEPA takes more than four years to complete, and about 25 percent of these statements take even longer. Project proponents report that the average EIS runs more than 600 pages, far exceeding guidelines by the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Lengthy EIS timelines and excessive reporting requirements are crucial factors in a company’s decision to abandon a project because there is no fixed timeline for project approval.
We recommend that NEPA reviews be time-limited and uniform across the federal government. For example, under a two-year timeline, approximately 32 additional energy projects costing more than $67 billion would be ready for deployment. Without such a permitting structure, America will continue to be left behind because of project delays and cancellations. The current convoluted process consistently leads to lost jobs, weakened national security, and stunted critical infrastructure growth and energy development, including wind, hydroelectric, and other vital infrastructure projects.
As our nation strives to build out our domestic infrastructure, President Biden must remain committed to permitting reform. We need it. The challenges presented by the issue are not abstract to the energy workforce. There are real-world negative consequences from this regulatory regime. Many have been pushing to modernize NEPA for years. It’s time to get the job done.
We urge Congress and the President to work together to pass substantial bipartisan reform that will benefit both the working men and women of our nation and the dedicated businesses that invest every day to keep the power flowing and the lights on in our great nation.
Mike Sommers is president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.
Sean McGarvey is president of North America’s Building Trades Unions.