Award-winning filmmaker, Oliver Stone, recently premiered his newest documentary, Nuclear Now. During his Washington D.C. stop, he had an exclusive interview with CBS White House Correspondent Nancy Cordes. Mr. Stone was asked how we could build up our nuclear capability in America to reach the Biden administration's 2050 carbon emission goals. His answer? Build the reactors in Canada, because in America it will take too long to get approved. Whether or not Mr. Stone realized it, he was making the argument in favor of permitting reform: the biggest hurdle to clean, cheap and reliable energy in America.
One of the biggest barriers to building new energy projects is the decades-long, expensive permitting process. There are horror stories like Idaho Power which took 14 years to untangle all the permitting necessary to bring power to local communities or the solar panel companies in Virginia that eventually gave up on servicing the state due to the time and money it took to get a permit, or Willow, the Alaskan oil drilling project that was just approved for drilling this year, despite the fact that the land has been set aside for oil drilling since the early 1990s. These projects take decades to approve, cost millions in permitting red tape, and ultimately harm consumers by preventing innovative technologies from servicing their homes.
“In the United States, it often takes between five and ten years — sometimes longer — to get critical energy infrastructure projects approved, putting us years behind allies like Canada, Australia, and more recently the EU, who each have policies designed to complete permitting in three years or less. It is clear that without comprehensive permitting reform we will never ensure lasting American energy security and independence and will delay progress on environmental goals,” said Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The current permitting system is already overly bureaucratic and inefficient, requiring businesses to navigate regulations that can take decades to complete. This not only results in significant delays and increased costs but also discourages investment and innovation, as businesses are deterred from pursuing new projects because of the regulatory burden of our current system. This is particularly the case for small businesses and startups, who often lack the resources to navigate the permitting process. This is especially alarming given the slow-down of startup companies in America pre-COVID and a near standstill in new startups post-COVID. A Cato Economic paper from 2021, points to permitting and licensing regulations being a main source of the lack of startup businesses.
U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME) recently released this statement, “We're not going to achieve our clean energy goals without permit reform. The Inflation Reduction Act cannot be implemented as long as environmentally sound projects are in an endless cycle of permitting hell. I hope that the administration will join us, as many of us are working on permitting reform not to lower the environmental standards, but to develop practical, realistic processes to accelerate the process.”
Yet despite the negative and often desperate outlook on getting energy projects started, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has introduced a new bill that could actually promote growth and innovation by reforming our permitting process in America. His latest bill, The Building American Energy Security Act will act as a starting point to spark conversation in the Senate around permitting reforms necessary to ensure American energy security, reliable energy, and innovative technologies according to a statement from Manchin’s office.
However, this is not Manchin’s first attempt at passing permitting reform. He first attempted it in 2022, when his bill seemed to gain little to no traction. He added permitting reforms to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a bipartisan climate change bill that he helped author. The bill ended up passing without his permitting reforms, and now he is trying again. He has even gone as far as to say that he will vote to repeal his own bill if the Biden administration doesn’t take his permitting reform calls seriously.
The IRA bases every project on a 10-year window, which has been the standard in America and without permitting reform, could be potentially even longer.
Senator Manchin’s bill would set timelines for permitting reviews (including two years for NEPA reviews and one year for smaller, lower-impact projects), a 150-day statute of limitations for court challenges, and changes to what Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) can consider of national interest.
While this new proposed bill does repeal some of Biden’s IRA law - according to a White House statement, it does have Biden’s stamp of approval if it comes to his desk.
"There is overwhelming bipartisan recognition that our current permitting processes aren't working and equally bipartisan support for addressing it through comprehensive permitting reform legislation," Senator Manchin said in a press release. It is about time that we cut the red tape preventing us from having clean, cheap, and affordable energy in America. It is time to seriously consider permitting reforms.
Charity Williamson is the Virginia State Director of the Capitalist League and a member of the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).