Genuine permitting reform is long overdue

If you build it, they will come. Good luck getting a government permit to build it.

That’s the hard part. The federal permitting process forces American energy infrastructure to endure a maze of regulations, mountains of paperwork, bureaucratic foot-dragging, and costly studies. That’s all before the court battles begin.

A recent review by the Council on Environmental Quality found that just completing an Environmental Impact Statement takes an average of four-and-a-half years. Add in all the other requirements and seemingly endless litigation, and getting the permit often takes longer than construction itself.

The longer a project takes to permit, the more it costs. West Virginia’s Mountain Valley Pipeline, for example, was originally supposed to cost $3.5 billion and open in 2018. It would boost the economy and supply natural gas to 10 million American homes.

Litigation and protests over permits issued and reissued by three administrations of both parties nearly doubled the cost to an astonishing $6.6 billion. It’s still not finished.

The costlier a project becomes, the more likely developers will pull the plug. For project opponents, that’s their path to victory.

Environmental activists skillfully exploit America’s broken permitting process. They even use their litigation as a selling point to raise huge sums of money.

In Wyoming, activists are suing to cancel hundreds of federal oil and gas permits that were issued after years of environmental reviews. These activists are aiming to stop all production in the area, even though the permits have already passed rigorous reviews.

Frivolous lawsuits are common. As a result, critical projects—pipelines, transmission lines, wind and solar farms, power plants, roads, tunnels, bridges, and mines—are significantly delayed or killed. The result is fewer jobs, higher prices, and more imports, traffic, and blackouts.

Last Congress, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pushed ineffective piecemeal reforms to the permitting process. His proposal erected more bureaucratic hoops while doing nothing to protect an “approved” project from protracted lawsuits.

There is a better way. As ranking members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, we each will be introducing legislation that together will streamline the permitting process while maintaining environmental safeguards.

Project developers need a process that is predictable and delivers a final answer. To accomplish that, our proposals will adhere to four basic principles.

First, serious reform must benefit the entire country, not a narrow range of interests. Schumer tried to put a thumb on the scale for politically-favored technologies. Our proposal will be technology and fuel neutral.

Second, bureaucratic dawdling can’t be allowed to kill projects. Our reforms will include enforceable timelines—with specific time limits on environmental reviews. If the responsible agency doesn’t meet the deadline, there must be real consequences that put the onus on the agency to modernize procedures.

Third, legislation should put in place time limits on legal challenges. Requiring groups challenging environmental reviews to do so within 60 days after project approval will prevent endless litigation intended solely to kill projects.

Fourth, the executive branch must not be allowed to hijack the permitting process to meet unrelated policy goals. President Biden’s unrelenting assault on American energy and mineral production makes reform of our leasing procedures urgent.

The Biden administration has used the permitting process to undermine American energy production at every opportunity. It has ignored laws requiring lease sales, doubled permitting times, slashed the lands available for projects, missed sales deadlines, and raised royalty rates and other fees. Streamlining permitting will help America reestablish our energy dominance.

This is a matter of national and economic security. Today, America is largely dependent on foreign sources for uranium and dozens of critical minerals used in renewable and battery technologies. Many of these minerals are controlled by China and Russia.

Our country is blessed with large mineral deposits. Wyoming, for example, has large reserves of coal, uranium, rare earths, and other minerals, and West Virginia has an abundance of critical minerals as well. It currently takes about ten years to get a mining permit. China moves much faster. We need to unlock domestic mining so America doesn’t have to rely on adversaries like China for critical minerals.

Author: John Barrasso
Publication: The Hill
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