One Step Forward. One Step Back. Let’s Get Real Permitting Reform Back on the Table.

As much as we thought we were taking steps forward in streamlining the permitting process with the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA), the Biden administration is sending mixed signals by adding more obstacles to approve energy projects. Recently, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced a proposal that aims to accelerate renewable energy projects and codify environmental justice into law, while imposing delays on traditional oil and gas projects. The Biden Administration continues to ignore the big picture: the hundreds of permitting laws from federal, state, and local governments are at fault for creating an inefficient and overcomplicated process.

The new proposal expands categorical exclusions, which allows agencies to flag projects as not having a significant effect on the environment and excludes them from a more extensive review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This provides agencies immense power to give short cuts to projects at their discretion, instead of reviewing each project equally. Additionally, the proposal would reverse a 2020 NEPA rule that regulated the public comment period to create a more effective discourse, further prolonging the permitting process.

It is obvious that the current permitting process has serious problems, and it is vital to America’s future that we act now. Instead of creating rules to favor one type of energy project over another, the Biden administration should focus on attacking the real problem and embrace all energy projects to facilitate America’s position as a global energy leader. Waiting around on permitting reform is costing Americans high-paying, dependable jobs and essential tax revenue that supports local infrastructure, healthcare, law enforcement and education. The clock is ticking. By refusing to address the root problem, America’s energy potential is being jeopardized.

Al Wynn: An All-of-the-Above Strategy Promotes Energy Security

America is producing a lot of energy and has the potential to produce even more with regards to both renewables and traditional fossil fuels. Former Maryland Congressman Al Wynn (D-MD) is optimistic about our nation’s ability to be self-sufficient energy wise, both through our abundant natural gas and oil resources, but also because of the renewable energy’s progress.

Speaking with the GAIN coalition, Wynn differentiated between the ability to produce energy, and what exactly that energy costs. He said, “In terms of energy security, I think one of the biggest issues is cost.” While wealthier, upper middle-class people may not feel the economic effects of an energy transition, every day, hardworking low-income people, and families will be hit the hardest by any increase in energy prices. While recent inflation has cooled off a bit, one of the first areas to experience inflation is energy costs, as illustrated by last summer’s significant rise in gasoline prices.

Wynn notes, “if we do not manage our energy mix effectively and efficiently, we end up with higher costs.” In that vein, an all-of-the-above approach to our energy production and consumption is a necessity. At the same time, our allies have come to rely on American liquid natural gas exports due to their reliance on Russian energy. If we were to wholly ignore the fossil fuel industry in this country in favor of a pure transition to renewables, we would be endangering both our domestic and allies’ national security.

Watch Al Wynn’s video here: Energy Security in the U.S. and Abroad.

The Necessity of Building Natural Gas Pipelines

It is no secret that the Biden administration seeks to transition our energy consumption and electrical grid to renewable energy technology. Provisions in key congressional bills, such as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), earmarked subsidies for green energy technology, such as electric vehicles and solar and wind farms. However, these investments and technologies will take years to come to fruition, and energy sources like wind and solar will always need baseload forms of power. While many environmentalists point to battery storage to offset their intermittency, the technology is not economically feasible yet. Instead, states across the country should look to build natural gas infrastructure, such as pipelines, so that our energy security does not falter during Biden’s “transition.”

For many states across the country, energy consumption comes in different forms. For example, natural gas accounts for 40.8 percent of Texas’ electrical grid’s energy consumption, with renewable energy accounting for 25.2 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). On the other hand, North Carolina’s electric power sector consumes less natural gas and renewable energy—31.3 percent and 13.1 percent respectively. This is notable because coal accounts for 17.1 percent of North Carolina’s electrical power sector consumption.

Over the last decade, the U.S. has made significant strides to reduce emissions by shifting from coal usage to natural gas. For a state like North Carolina, cleaner natural gas could strengthen the grid and lower the state’s emissions while renewable technologies proliferate and decrease in cost. One problem? North Carolina, like many states, lacks the infrastructure capacity to transport key fuels to their destination. That is why the recent Mountain Valley Pipeline saga is so important, as the 75-mile extension would carry natural gas through the western part of the state. The only other interstate pipeline is currently at capacity. Stalling, blocking, or attempting to kill key energy projects such as pipelines not only decreases the potential energy supply, but also contradicts attempts to lower carbon emissions, as illustrated by a state like North Carolina’s reliance on coal.

The administration should prioritize building more pipeline infrastructure to get our abundant resources to markets that rely on dirtier sources of fuel for their energy. Attempting to jump straight from a source like coal to renewables that are more expensive, lack baseload power and widespread viability, will fracture our nation’s energy security region-by-region. Natural gas is the answer.  

Albert Wynn: Opportunities for Permitting Reform on Both Sides

Speaking with the GAIN Coalition, Albert Wynn, a former Democratic Congressman representing Maryland’s 4th district in the U.S. House of Representatives, was optimistic that permitting reform could find more bipartisan support soon. Noting the progress that has already been made during debt ceiling negotiations, resulting in the Fiscal Responsibility Act, Wynn argues there is a lot more left to be done.

For advocates of renewable energy technologies, permitting reform with regards to solar and wind farms is important for a few reasons. While large infrastructure projects such as offshore wind farms would benefit from reform, the larger issue is the transmission lines needed to move the energy across the country. Permitting reform with regards to transmission lines was notably left out of the FRA.

While many environmental advocates are concerned with building out renewable energy, widespread efficient usage of that power is not possible without more transmission lines being built. At the same time, the permitting process for fossil fuel infrastructure, especially pipelines, is onerous and lengthy. Wynn notes that it can take up to four years to get permits through the EPA and “other local processes,” and that that timeframe is too long for many of the companies investing in these necessary projects.

“We need both,” Wynn says, advocating for an all-of-the-above approach to energy. Recognizing that the U.S. will need to rely on all forms of energy should bring stakeholders to the table to compromise on the best ways to streamline both sides of the permitting process.

Watch the video here: Albert Wynn on Permitting Reform

Natural Gas Provides Globe-Changing Alternative to Coal

The U.S. has significantly cut its coal usage, and subsequently our greenhouse gas emissions, over the last fifteen years. While the U.S. has reached record levels of natural gas production due to our vast supply of domestic resources, other countries around the globe continue to rely on dirty coal for their energy needs. A recent piece in Oil Price details this unfortunate reality with the (rhetorical) question, “Why the world just can’t kick coal.”

Our nation’s coal demand has plummeted due to the abundance of natural gas at our disposal. At the same time, the U.S.’ development of renewable technologies, as well as the advancement of environmental regulations, have also contributed to the fuel’s decline. The author, Robert Rapier, writes in his article, “the advent of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and advanced drilling techniques led to a significant expansion of natural gas production, resulting in lower natural gas prices. Many power plants have shifted from coal to natural gas as it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and can be more economically viable.”

Though the U.S. has made significant strides to limit coal use and reduce emissions, other nations around the world have actually increased their coal dependence. The U.S. accounts for 6.6 percent of the world’s coal consumption, while China accounts for 55 percent. The Asia Pacific region as a whole is responsible for 81 percent of the world’s coal usage, and that number is growing due to coal’s relative cheapness, geographical abundance in the area and rising industrialization. Even more unfortunate is the rebounding coal demand in Europe due to the energy crisis cased by the war in Ukraine. As countries decoupled themselves from Russian natural gas and oil, coal plant closures were delayed as energy emergency measures.

The U.S. must continue to explore, produce and export our abundant natural gas reserves. While many Western nations push a transition to renewables that is years away onto developing nations, natural gas offers a cleaner alternative to coal, the resource many industrializing economies continue to rely on. Building more energy infrastructure will facilitate a decrease in global coal consumption, whether it is pipelines to get the product to domestic markets, or terminals to export our natural gas to developing nations. It is right to focus on domestic emissions reductions, but the U.S. can also play a larger role in the energy usage of developing nations around the world.

GAIN Webinar on Permitting Reforms for Energy Projects

Today, the GAIN Coalition hosted a webinar to discuss energy infrastructure and recent permitting reforms for energy projects, featuring Representative Mike Carey (R-OH), GAIN Spokesman Craig Stevens, Dr. Ellen Wald, Guy Caruso and former Congressman, Representative Charlie Melancon (D-LA), spokesman for Louisiana Energy Export Partners.

Permitting reform has been a hot button issue in Washington with regards to the future of U.S. energy policy. With the recent passage of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA), there have been significant steps in streamlining the permitting process, such as holding environmental reviews to strict deadlines and designating a lead agency for reviews on multi-agency projects. However, our panelists begged to differ that these reforms go far enough.

Rep. Mike Carey talked about the importance of the energy sector in the U.S., describing it as “energy is life.” Additionally, Rep. Carey emphasized his hopes that Congress would curtail extremism from both sides of the political spectrum, continuing to build off the FRA and focus on permitting reform.  

Dr. Ellen Wald detailed the shortfalls of the FRA as the reforms don’t wholly streamline the permitting process. Particularly, once the courts are involved, there is a lack of accountability and deadlines, as illustrated by major projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline. She also noted that, if these issues with permitting persist, companies will not be incentivized to deploy capital for more projects, which could be detrimental to the U.S.’ energy production.

Building off of Dr. Wald’s comments, Guy Caruso, former Administrator of the Energy Information Administration, discussed the need to sustain the growth of one of the largest industries in our country, no matter the type of energy project. Additionally, he raised concerns about the national security implications with inconsistent energy production as we have seen other countries fall victim to like in the European Union.

As Louisiana is a major energy hub, former Congressman and Spokesman for Louisiana Energy Export Partners, Rep. Charlie Melancon, highlighted his first-hand frustrating experience with permitting process during his time in office and the importance of the energy industry in the state. In the past twenty years, Louisiana has expanded their production capacity but issues with permitting still persist causing major delays. The energy industry is the backbone of Louisiana’s economy, and a streamlined permitting process would bring thousands of jobs and billions of dollars back into the state.

All of our panelists agreed that there is much work to be done and it’s imperative to act to secure our nation’s future.

Historic U.S. Natural Gas Production and the Need for Expanded Energy Infrastructure

A recent report from the EIA shows that U.S. dry natural gas production is at an all-time high, while natural gas prices are their lowest since June 2020.

The war in Ukraine has drawn attention to the national security benefits that domestic natural gas can afford the U.S. While our European allies searched for alternatives to Russian energy, the U.S. was able to fill the gap by exporting our uniquely independent and abundant natural gas resources across the pond.

The war and its ensuing consequences have highlighted the necessity for the United States to remain energy independent. As a result of limited domestic energy resources, as well as an overreliance on Russia, some European countries—like France and Finland—increased their dependence on coal. Natural gas remains a significantly cleaner resource than coal, and so the increased production of natural gas is essential for lowering emissions and buffering a gradual shift towards renewable energy technologies.

As our allies continue to rely on U.S. natural gas, and the country increases production, our nation’s energy infrastructure most also expand accordingly. The United States’ largest crude export port, Corpus Christi, has begun to see some of these limitations in infrastructure as pipelines connecting the Permian basin to the port are running at about 90 percent capacity. Now, competition among companies and their investors is peaking as they sort out how to connect our abundant resources to the growing marketplace. Further infrastructure expansion, including additional pipelines and export terminals, is necessary to continue to move these fuels to bustling domestic and international markets more efficiently.

Craig Stevens: For Electricity, All of the Above Should Really Mean All of the Above

Supporting all available sources of energy, whether through the construction of pipelines, export terminals or offshore wind farms, should not be a polarizing issue. Although decision makers on Capitol Hill call for an ‘all-of-the-above’ approach to energy policy, lawmakers tend to favor certain sources over others, inhibiting the energy industry’s progress.

Writing in RealClear Energy, Craig Stevens, former senior advisor to U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman and spokesman for Grow America’s Infrastructure Now (GAIN), highlights how both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have used rhetoric and hyperbole to oppose the energy resources they deem unfavorable. When President Biden took office, he waged a war on traditional energy, shutting down the Keystone XL pipeline, closing federal lands to oil and gas exploration and extraction, as well as instituting a new natural gas tax. Stevens writes, “these directives, along with others, have clouded the certainty some companies need to operate, thereby making energy more expensive over the long-term.”

However, Democrats are not solely to blame for the increasing polarization around energy policies. Republicans have found it “politically advantageous” to attack offshore wind development, repeating “debunked claims about threats to marine life,” Stevens writes. One Congressman, Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), has called out President Biden’s actions stifling fossil fuel projects, asserting that the President is “destroying our own energy independence.” Ironically, Rep. Van Drew has also called for a moratorium on offshore wind farm projects in the name of “national security.”

If lawmakers are serious about securing our energy independence and solidifying our national security, they must work together on energy policies that support an all-of-the-above approach. That means investing capital in pipeline projects, export terminals and wind farms. While our energy sources come in different forms, we cannot ignore one at the cost of another.

Read Craig Stevens’ piece in Real Clear Energy here: For Electricity, All of the Above Should Really Mean All of the Above

Mountain Valley Pipeline Faces Legal Challenges, Again

Besides much-needed permitting reform, the Fiscal Responsibility Act was also supposed to streamline the long-challenged Mountain Valley Pipeline—until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit halted construction last week. Though Congress had included moved jurisdiction over the pipeline to the D.C. Circuit, as well as including provisions in the FRA that expedited construction of the project, environmentalists, members of the Virginia congressional delegation, and some law exports have argued that Congress violated the Constitution. The pair of rulings released by the Fourth circuit has now set the stage for the case to end up at the Supreme Court.

Sen. Joe Manchin (WV-D) said in a statement, “the law passed by Congress and signed by the president is clear — the Fourth Circuit no longer has jurisdiction over Mountain Valley Pipeline’s construction permits.” Additionally, the Justice Department “backed the pipeline,” according to The New York Times, submitting briefs to the Fourth Circuit appeals court that support “a motion to dismiss the appeals challenging Mountain Valley Pipeline’s right of way through Jefferson National Forest in West Virginia.”

On Tuesday, Sen. Manchin filed an Amicus Curiae with the Supreme Court in support of the pipeline. Citing sections from the Fiscal Responsibility Act, Sen. Manchin notes that energy infrastructure projects cannot continue to be delayed. He writes, “yet again, this vital energy infrastructure project has been put on hold by the Fourth Circuit despite the new law clearly stating that the Fourth Circuit no longer has this authority. We cannot let this continue any longer.” The future of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is now uncertain. The legal battle could have wide-ranging implications regarding Congresses’ ability to override the courts.   

Marks: Germany’s Energy Quandary Can Teach the U.S. Lessons

Writing in Inside Sources’ DC Journal, Ret. Major General Spider Marks reflects on the lessons America can learn from Germany’s energy situation that has been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Germany is a case study of an overreliance on foreign sources of energy, specifically hostile nations that can leverage energy as a weapon of war, as Russia has done.

Marks writes, “for Germany, overreliance on Russian-sourced energy coupled with an ambitious renewable energy agenda has come at a heavy price.” When the West laid sanctions against the Russian state, Germany’s energy sector was quickly exposed for their reliance on imports from the Kremlin, as well as a transition to green energy stuck in neutral. Supply was not the only issue, either. The economic toll of Germany’s’ misguided policies was overwhelming.

As part of their transition, Germany planned to replace traditional heating systems with ‘climate-friendly’ pumps which are estimated to cost up to $14,000 per household.  Marks notes the increased costs for Germans, writing, “the country is paying 40 percent more for energy in 2023 than in 2021 — an increase that is undoubtedly passed on to consumers and impedes the German economy.

Instead of following Germany down the path of shunning traditional fuels, such as oil and gas, in favor of technologies that are not yet fully reliable or widely deployable, the U.S. must invest and support an all-of-the-above strategy. Marks write, “Diversity of energy options is critical. With its availability, adaptability and low carbon footprint, natural gas has allowed significant emission reductions while keeping energy costs down.” If we are to continue reducing emissions while maintaining a secure energy source, natural gas offers us the best opportunity to do both.

Read more from Retired Major General James ‘Spider’ Marks here: Inside Sources