Inflation is wreaking havoc on America’s consumers, and the associated shortages and supply chain disruptions are driving prices ever-higher across the economy—especially in the energy sector. Among the most troubling roadblocks to alleviating this pain is America’s inability to efficiently permit new energy and infrastructure projects, including electricity transmission lines, pipelines, wind farms, and even the mines that are the leading edge of our industrial base.
Hope springs eternal, however. As part of a side agreement to the Inflation Reduction Act—the Democrats’ healthcare and climate bill—lawmakers will soon consider a proposal to address America’s longstanding infrastructure permitting and litigation delays. There are plenty of policies that elicit partisan rancor in Washington; this should not be one of them.
A growing plurality of Republicans and Democrats claim to support meaningful reform, even if their motives differ. Republicans have long championed permit streamlining, believing a more fair and efficient process will unlock new investment, and serve as a much-needed catalyst for increased domestic energy production. Democrats, on the other hand, have consistently resisted permitting reforms, citing concerns that modernizing the system would jeopardize existing environmental standards.
Ironically, permitting delays have recently become the single largest obstacle to delivering the sustainable, green energy infrastructure Democrats favor to slash carbon emissions. In their evolving view, achieving a green energy future will require dramatic new investment in our critical infrastructure at a scale not seen since President Eisenhower’s expansion of the federal highway system. I couldn’t agree more.
Regardless of why politicians seek permitting reform, it’s clear that our country desperately needs it. According to the Federal Highway Administration, a typical project review in the 1970s took an average of two years. In the 1980s, that interval stretched past four years, and from 2002 to 2011, comparable projects waited seven years for permits. Shamefully, these delays continue to grow longer across nearly all critical infrastructure sectors.
Mine permitting offers a good example of a bad trend. Mining is a required element of nearly every aspect of America’s infrastructure and energy supply chains, and mine permitting is in desperate need of reform. In Canada and Australia, countries with environmental safeguards similar to America’s, it takes just two to three years to permit a mine. In the U.S, permitting regularly takes 10 years or more, if it gets completed at all. Instead of opening new lithium, nickel, and copper mines to meet soaring mineral demand for the electric vehicle revolution, the U.S. is growing increasingly dependent on imports from geopolitical rivals such as China and Russia.
The permitting reform effort unfolding now is the right solution at the right time. Among its provisions, it would designate and prioritize infrastructure projects of “strategic national importance” to receive accelerated review. The proposed reform would also place maximum timelines on all energy infrastructure permitting reviews and, in turn, push through our own self-imposed roadblocks.
For far too long, a broken permitting system has kneecapped our capacity to rebuild and modernize the nation’s infrastructure. This permitting improvement effort could jumpstart America’s ability to build the energy infrastructure and industrial base needed to tackle climate change, strengthen domestic energy security, and improve our global competitiveness. This is an opportunity Congress must embrace now.
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