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White House outlines goals for permitting legislation

Favors flexibility in locating new power lines and making public land available for energy production

White House adviser John Podesta described administration priorities for an overhaul of the federal permitting system during an event at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
White House adviser John Podesta described administration priorities for an overhaul of the federal permitting system during an event at the Bipartisan Policy Center. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Bipartisan permitting legislation should provide greater authorities for siting of electric transmission lines and accelerate energy project permitting on federal lands, the White House said in a plan released Wednesday outlining its priorities.

As Congress considers multiple proposals for the long-sought overhaul of the federal process of permitting for energy and other large projects, the White House said in its plan that any legislation should also include changes to “outdated” mining laws and additional resources to improve data gathering.

Speaking at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Senior Advisor John Podesta said that the permitting process for clean energy infrastructure is “plagued by delays and bottlenecks.”

“These delays are pervasive at every level of government — federal, state and local,” said Podesta. “We got so good at stopping projects that we forgot how to build things in America.”

Last year President Joe Biden endorsed a proposal from Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., on which Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer agreed to hold a vote in order to receive Manchin’s support on the climate, tax and health care law.

While that legislation ultimately fell short of passage, Manchin reintroduced the bill on May 2. Podesta said that while Biden does not support every provision of the bill, it should be used as a starting point for a bipartisan measure that can pass through a divided Congress.

The White House said any bipartisan legislative package to overhaul the process should include provisions that would provide electric transmission siting and cost allocations that would expedite the deployment of both interstate and offshore lines. It also called for Congress to require the consideration of economic, environmental and reliability costs and benefits during interregional transmission planning.

Federal lands

For projects on federal lands, the White House said Congress should establish further goals for renewable energy, extending the goal of 25 gigawatts by 2025 established in a 2020 bill, which the administration expects to exceed. It also called for updates to the Mining Law of 1872, which it said is necessary to expedite timelines for critical mineral exploration and production.

In order to incentivize further development, it called for Congress to exempt those who construct clean energy projects on so-called brownfields from liability for existing contamination.

At the agencies that oversee the permitting process, the White House said Congress should ensure they are consistently funded in order to keep the necessary staff in place. It said that more funding and new authorities are also needed to update data- and record-keeping, noting that some of these agencies are using “antiquated” IT systems or even paper.

To ensure that agencies engage with affected communities, the White House asked that Congress require agencies to identify a chief community engagement office. In order to address future harms, it asked that Congress direct agencies to require mitigation efforts and ensure they satisfy environmental review requirements, a move it said would increase efficiency and improve certainty for projects.

While Republicans included portions of an energy bill that included the permitting changes in their bill to lift the debt ceiling, Podesta reiterated his opposition to this measure over provisions that would repeal tax credits included in last year’s law.

Aside from Manchin, Republican Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia have introduced their own permitting legislation. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., said he also has a forthcoming proposal.

Despite calls for bipartisanship on both sides there continue to be partisan divisions. Some Democrats have expressed concern that the proposals would erode environmental protections or benefit fossil fuel projects, while Republicans have said the provisions on transmission may effectively override state regulators.

However, Podesta reiterated the White House’s belief that permitting reform is needed to fully realize the benefits of last year’s reconciliation law as well as the bipartisan infrastructure law and the chips and science law.

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