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Federal lawmakers will try again to reform permitting amid energy transition

Idaho Power maintains thousands of power lines across its complicated grid.
Courtesy Idaho Power
Many federal officials are hoping to speed up the permitting process for transmission lines.

News brief: 

Congress is once again considering reforming the permitting process for energy projects. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing Thursday, May 11, about opportunities to speed up both renewable and fossil fuel development.

During testimony, several speakers delivered the same message: It takes way too long for energy projects to get off the ground. Jason Grumet, president and CEO of the American Clean Power Association, said this holds back the transition to renewable energy in the U.S.

“I believe we are on the precipice of another breakthrough where we can combine the strength of traditional energy resources with massive deployment of renewable power and storage, if we can simply get out of our way and build it,” he said.

That’s why multiple bills aim to accelerate permitting across the country, whether it be for mining for critical minerals or renewable projects. Some of the bills propose time limits on how long agencies have to conduct environmental review processes, and shortening the statute of limitations for court challenges.

Paul Ulrich, vice president of a natural gas company in Wyoming and member of the Wyoming Energy Authority, said these changes would make an especially big difference in Western states.

“States in the West with a large amount of public land have a decided disadvantage to other parts of the country,” he said. “Leasing, environmental reviews, permitting and ultimately any source of energy development can take years if not decades longer than on private land.”

Permitting reform legislation has been on the table before. Sen. Joe Manchin, D, W.Va., introduced a bill last year that lost supporters on both the left and the right. Progressive Democrats said the legislation went too far in rolling back environmental protections, and most Republicans dismissed it.

This time, the White House has outlined its own set of priorities as Congress again negotiates permitting reforms.

Ulrich said expanding all types of production and transmission can help the U.S. reach its climate, economic and national security goals.

“We are eager, ready, willing [and] able to get to work producing some of the cleanest energy, whether it be natural gas, coal, wind etc,” he said.

Several conservation groups have raised concerns over potential permitting reform, arguing increased fossil fuel production would cause environmental injustices and raise emissions.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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