Mansion’s red tape fix could boost renewable energy

cLean energy and infrastructure projects are vital, but they are becoming expensive because they are too slow to complete, contributing to the livability and climate crises crippling America. We have a lot of red tape when what we need to do is start building more projects, and build them at a much faster pace if we are to meet our 2050 climate goals.

One way to do this is to simplify the regulatory process, and Democrats in Congress have the opportunity to do just that. When Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer struck a deal with Senator Joe Manchin to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, it included a promise to consider environmental audit reform legislation and power-up.

President Biden’s commitment to bringing cranes in the sky and shovels in the ground to transform our economy into carbon neutrality is in the balance.

Democrats and progressives should embrace this reform rather than veto it, as many climate hawks threaten Democrats. The massive green energy investment in the Inflation Reduction Act will not go anywhere – nor help us in the fight against climate change – without being paired with reform to allow our country to build again, and to build faster.

The leaked outline of Mansion’s proposal includes setting time limits for the environmental review process for energy projects. Other components will make it more difficult for states to block projects that pass through their waters, a way that state authorities prevent projects of national importance using state laws.

While it does include provisions for pet projects, the core of the Mansion-Schumer side deal is targeting a failing feature in our political system: from the Senate to stalling, manipulating district boundaries at all federal and state levels, commissions, and NIMBY (“Not in my yard”). Background”) Referendums, community councils, and litigation with interest groups – our regulatory system has become a “fetocracy” that impedes progress. Red tape in allowing jobs has become another point of veto, because regulatory systems are inevitably subject to special interests.

The United States is one of the slowest countries in building large and most expensive infrastructure projects. In contrast, our infrastructure and the costs of mega projects are enormous compared to the rest of the world. For example, we hold the title of the most expensive subway project in the world – the Second Avenue subway expansion in New York, which cost $2.2 billion per kilometer and was completed after 90 years of conception. By contrast, Paris is building an entirely new 47-mile subway line for a total of $11 billion. If New York City were to build a new 47-mile subway, it would likely cost more than $100 billion, roughly the GDP of Ecuador.

The main driver for this is speed or lack of it and it starts with the longest planning, permitting and approval process in the world. One of the main reasons is that our environmental regulatory system focuses on process rather than objective outcomes. No law in the book exemplifies this more than the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (commonly known as NEPA).

NEPA requires all construction projects under federal jurisdiction to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement on a specific project. Initially, this data was routinely about 10 pages long.

Today, what was born as a good idea has turned into a demon. The Department of Energy reported that the median time to complete an environmental impact statement in 2015 was 4.1 years, and the average cost was $4.2 million. These pages are routinely made up of thousands of pages and take years to complete, and more often than not, they are used to kill or make projects that are slow to die or expensive.

NEPA recently announced a number of clean energy projects. For example, congestion pricing in New York has been delayed by NEPA and pushed through to 2023 although it passed in 2019 due to consideration of several “alternative approaches” to avoiding litigation. Bike lanes in San Francisco have been delayed by a 1,353-page report, 2.5 years and more than $1 million in costs due to a NEPA review.

NEPA reviews often kill wind projects: In one, wind farms off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard — which would produce enough to power about 720,000 homes with clean energy — have been delayed for years. Another Cape Cod wind farm has been canceled after 16 years of NEPA delays and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on heavy costs; And it took NEPA 11 years of delays before final approval of a major wind project in Wyoming.

Read more: How Amazon became the world’s largest buyer of renewable energy

Mass transit authorities have great difficulty getting projects approved in a timely manner. This is partly why the Second Avenue subway in New York has been delayed; It is the next three stages that will each require a separate review. California’s high-speed rail system has been delayed for nearly a decade due to lengthy procedural delays. The federal government can’t even put solar panels on their roofs without doing a NEPA review.

Even wildfire prevention suffers: Congress recently tried to pass a specific NEPA in the Save Our Sequoias Act because Forest Service wildfire prevention projects are delayed by an average of 3.5 to 7.2 years.

Federal agencies are risk averse, often erring on the side of conservative review rather than risking federal court arrest as deficient. The nature of the NEPA’s Citizens lawsuit clause allows anyone to challenge the agency’s actions — which has had the effect of allowing special interest groups to join and projects often being shut down as a result of delays. The costs of major infrastructure and energy projects are concentrated, but the benefits are scattered, so NEPA often allows small groups to destroy good public projects that would benefit many, many people.

Reforming NEPA properly is a matter of generations. Now we have process-based environmental protection with mixed results. The reform would reimagine a materials-based environmental protection system that takes the entire planet into account. NEPA was passed in the 1970s, when local environmental damage such as toxic waste was the main concern. Our challenges today are global, but the way NEPA is generally interpreted and applied can favor the status quo and not favor land development for renewable energy projects. An important recent NEPA quantitative analysis from Trevor Salter of the University of California, Davis, argues that current law advances land conservation interests at the expense of renewable energy project development.

Opponents of bureaucratic reform will point out that more community input is critical, which was the original purpose of NEPA. But the truth is that today NEPA has become an instrument of regulatory capture. True, any citizen is allowed to sue to stop a project, but a recent study found that only 3 percent of NEPA litigants were Native American tribes or locals. Instead, the vast majority of litigants were special interest groups, sometimes from shell organizations funded by fossil fuel interests.

The irony is that NEPA actually hinders renewable energy much more than fossil fuels and highway resurfacing. Fossil fuel development is completely exempt from many NEPA review, and seniors have had contracts to work in the process for them: 42% of active NEPA projects at the Department of Energy (DOE) are related to clean energy, transportation, or conservation, while only 15% are related to fossil fuels. . Specifically, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 created a loophole for oil and gas exploration on federal lands while exempting many oil and gas projects across the western United States from having to comply with NEPA. Incredibly, carbon-neutral geothermal projects don’t get the same treatment, they basically have to file NEPA reports against their dirtiest competitors.

The Institute for Progress outlined a list of policy proposals to prevent the use of NEPA to harm the environment including giving clean energy the same regulatory treatment that fossil fuels already receive, placing limits on judicial review arising from NEPA, and creating “energy security corridors” to incentivize state and local governments to streamline permit processes and its own review.

Allowed reviews must have a 16-month window with stricter litigation review guidelines because certainty, whether or not a project is approved, helps redistribute capital quickly into productive uses but forgetfulness kills. Finally, dark money interest groups – often funded by competitors to a clean energy project – should not have the capacity to challenge a publicly beneficial project.

In the United States, a long history of perceived sacrifice to achieve environmental goals has led to the belief that economic growth and the environment are trapped in a zero-sum game, and that growth suffers from decarbonization. To build support for a perpetual environmental movement, we need to decouple the environment from the observed decline in the standard of living. Accelerating the path toward an environmental agenda that quickly focuses on creating an abundance of clean energy does just that.

Overhauling the permit process to make it easier to fight global warming is a moral obligation, even if it means allowing a fossil fuel project to go forward like the one Manchin wants in West Virginia.

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