The Biden administration wants Congress to approve legislation to speed up the sometimes yearslong federal permitting process to build energy infrastructure and has outlined a set of provisions it wants to see in those measures. 

John Podesta, White House senior adviser for clean energy innovation and implementation, said, “Right now, the permitting process for clean energy infrastructure, including transmission, is plagued by delays and bottlenecks.”

In remarks at a May 10 Bipartisan Policy Council event in Washington, D.C., Podesta said, “These delays are pervasive at every level of government—federal, state and local." He added, "We got so good at stopping projects, we forgot how to build things in America.” 

[Read Podesta's prepared remarks here and view a YouTube video of his remarks here.]

The administration is taking some administrative steps aimed at improving federal environmental and other reviews specifically for electricity transmission projects. 

Podesta announced that on May 10 seven federal agencies, along with the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council and the White House signed a memorandum of understanding “to put electric transmission permitting on a fast track.”

He said the memo allows the US Dept. of Energy, “to shepherd projects forward" using its "full authority" under the Federal Power Act.

That follows DOE’s May 9 release of a notice of intent to begin the process of designating “national interest electric transmission corridors.” If a route gets that designation, DOE said, it would open the way for financing, including public-private partnerships, for transmission projects in those corridors.

Gregory Wetstone, president and chief executive officer of the American Council on Renewable Energy, said of the memorandum and DOE corridor announcement, "These helpful actions demonstrate a commitment to building out the electric grid we need to realize America's clean energy future." 

But Podesta said that “we can use some more tools to go even further and to go even faster,” which would come through legislation.

Movement Seen In Congress

Several permitting reform plans targeting the energy sector are percolating on Capitol Hill. Most notable so far is the legislative package that the House passed March 30 that would increase the debt limit. It also includes provisions focused on expediting federal reviews of energy projects. 

In the Senate, Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on May 2 reintroduced his 2022 permitting bill that failed to clear the Senate last year.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the Environment and Public Works Committee’s top Republican, and Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), ranking Republican on the energy panel, on May 4, introduced their own permitting reform proposals.

Also on May 4, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the Environment and Public Works panel, said he also plans to propose permitting legislation. 

Podesta said President Joe Biden supports Manchin’s proposal, adding however that the president “doesn’t love everything in the bill.” 

Podesta said that Congress should see it as a starting point for “ serious bipartisan negotiations in the Senate to eliminate project approval roadblocks to clean energy projects and bolster our national security.”

Administration: De-Link Debt Limit From Permitting

Podesta also said the White House opposes combining a debt-limit increase with permitting reform, as the House bill does.

He said, "We think everything needs to be de-linked from a debt-ceiling fight, because ... the threat of default should never be used in policy fights."

Podesta added that "you shouldn't use the full faith and credit [of the U.S.] as a club and a threat. That's bad for the economy [and] bad for the American people."

White House Outlines Recommendations

In addition, the White House on May 10 released a list of items that it would like to see included in an eventual permitting reform bill.

The recommendations include: speeding the deployment of important electric transmission capacity projects; accelerating energy project permitting on federal lands; and revamping federal mining policy to expand U.S.-based production of critical materials. 

Also on the administration's list are: deploying hydrogen and carbon dioxide infrastructure, including pipelines and storage; and providing incentives to redevelop formerly contaminated sites as places to construct clean energy projects.

The White House recommendations that focus specifically on the permit process include: improving permitting efficiency and predictability; enhancing federal agencies' data collection; trimming duplicative reviews; and improving community engagement.

Amy Andryszak, president and CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, said in a statement that it appreciates the administration's support for permitting reform. But she added that association officials "were disappointed to see almost no mention of natural gas or its related infrastructure" in the White House's permit reform priorities.