After President Biden’s signing of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) on August 16th, Washington is focused on the permitting reform effort, spearheaded by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). According to media reports, Democratic leaders promised Senator Manchin permitting reform in exchange for his support of the IRA.
When announcing the deal in late July, Senator Manchin said Democratic leaders were “committed to advancing a suite of commonsense permitting reforms this fall that will ensure all energy infrastructure, from transmission to pipelines and export facilities, can be efficiently and responsibly built.”
The initial framework outlines key provisions such as a two-year limit on NEPA environmental reviews, changes to the Clean Water Act approval process, limits on judicial review, and creation of a president’s priority list of projects. The legislative framework would help address the labyrinth of red tape surrounding renewable and fossil fuel energy projects.
Additionally, the potential reform bill intends to counter infrastructure opposition groups who use additional reviews to demand more time, and more analysis, as a tactic to suspend or kill these projects. The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources has noted that, although NEPA was intended to “increase awareness regarding the effects of federal actions on the environment,” the act’s ambiguous language has “exposed the federal government to excessive litigation and resulted in perverse outcomes for agencies, the environment and taxpayers.” Undue litigation of these projects threatens the country’s energy security and development.
Even though gas prices have fallen in recent weeks, the U.S. cannot become complacent. The average gas price in the U.S. recently fell below four dollars for the first time since March, but is still about 80 cents higher than the average this time last year. Just two years ago this month, today’s average is nearly $1.80 higher. More pipeline capacity is a necessity to continue facilitating the decrease in gas prices, and make sure no potential transportation bottlenecks end up hampering supply. Reforming the loopholes in permitting, and de-weaponizing NEPA, should be a top priority for the Biden Administration as it seeks to keep a potential domestic energy crisis under wraps.