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GOP sees Biden’s EV push as leverage for permitting

Overhaul is needed, they say, to support technologies to reduce emissions

The EPA has proposed tighter restrictions on vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.
The EPA has proposed tighter restrictions on vehicle greenhouse gas emissions. (Denver Post via Getty Images)

Republicans in Congress may not like the Biden administration’s recent proposal to squeeze greenhouse gas emissions standards in the name of advancing electric vehicle adoption, but it does provide them with leverage on one of their top priorities: an overhaul of the federal permitting process.

The proposed standards released last week are by far the strictest emission rules developed by the EPA. The agency estimated that through 2055 the standards would avert nearly 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions and would bump EV sales to two-thirds of all new car sales by 2032. 

“The only way to make this transition work for rural America is to make sure you get those assets out there,” said a Republican staffer familiar with the party’s energy strategy. “We don’t feel that it’s achievable in the current regulatory structure. But these regulations are all underscoring the need to do this build-out.”

Permitting overhaul legislation fizzled in the 117th Congress despite efforts by Republicans and their frequent fossil-energy ally, Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va. 

Manchin isn’t the only Democrat on board for an overhaul. Some in the party have endorsed the idea because they believe it’s necessary to speed up green energy projects; others say underfunded and understaffed agencies contribute to delays. 

“Any serious permitting package must also focus on the needs of the future: as America transitions to clean energy, we need to take steps in Congress to ease that transition and ensure clean energy is reliable, accessible, and most importantly, affordable,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in floor remarks in March.

But in Republicans’ eyes, the newly proposed emission standards only add to the problems they see in permitting.

“These misguided emissions standards were made without considering the supply chain challenges American automakers are still facing, the lack of sufficiently operational electric vehicle charging infrastructure, or the fact that it takes nearly a decade to permit a mine to extract the minerals needed to make electric vehicles, forcing businesses to look to China for these raw materials,” Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said in a statement on the proposed rule.

Manchin joined Republicans in criticizing the rule, saying a statement Tuesday that would support a congressional resolution to overturn the rule if it is finalized.

“The EPA is lying to Americans with false claims about how manipulation of the market to boost EVs will help American energy security,” he wrote. “To meet these timelines will mean strengthening our reliance on minerals and technologies controlled by the Chinese.

Charging stations

For example, the Biden administration aims to add 500,000 new EV charging stations nationwide by 2030, each of which will require various state and federal permits, including environmental impact statements. 

Also, in order to make EV models that meet sourcing requirements for the new tax credit included in the climate, tax and health care law the U.S. will have to ramp up its mining activities for minerals like lithium, cobalt and nickel. And the current electric transmission grid will need to be expanded by 60 percent by 2030 to take on more EVs, according to Energy Department data, meaning new transmission lines that also need to undergo the permitting process.

Although both the Energy and Transportation departments have announced spending to expand and modernize the transmission grid and build charging stations, Republicans remain skeptical that the projects will be ready in time to support new EVs on the road.

As Capito and Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said in a March op-ed published in The Hill,  “bureaucratic dawdling” only provides more opportunity for China to dominate the critical mineral supply chain.

“Our country is blessed with large mineral deposits,” they added. “A number of Senate Democrats have stated that they too want permitting reform. If they are serious about fixing the broken process, meaningful permitting reform is possible.”

The GOP energy aide, who is familiar with permitting talks, said many stakeholders in the EV space have cited similar concerns to those attempting to build a natural gas pipeline — they get delayed in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. 

They added that they have been aiming to be “fuel and technology agnostic” when thinking of permitting overhauls, in that any changes would benefit an EV infrastructure project just as it would benefit a natural gas plant or critical mineral mine. 

But it’s not clear if the proposed standards are enough to push the parties to an agreement on permitting modifications, especially as Democrats continue to champion the U.S. for its environmental standards and the Biden administration continues to roll out infrastructure law funding.

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