House Democrats release permitting proposal focused on electricity, renewable energy

Source: BY RACHEL FRAZIN, The Hill • Posted: Sunday, April 30, 2023

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House Democrats on Thursday released their permitting reform proposal after House Republicans advanced an energy bill that included measures aimed at streamlining the approval process for projects.

Whereas the Republicans’ permitting efforts focused on expediting environmental reviews for infrastructure projects, a discussion draft released Thursday from Reps. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) and Mike Levin (D-Calif.) focused largely on electricity infrastructure, renewable energy and including local communities in the process.

Republicans also put their permitting provisions into a larger package that bolstered oil and gas.

While neither side is going to get everything they want, the new Democratic draft marks a starting point for negotiations from the left.

Jacob Vurpillat, a spokesperson for Casten, said in an email that the draft could be a starting point and Democratic leaders are aware of the work the lawmakers are doing on the issue as Congress looks to move a permitting package.

Casten, in a statement, cited delays preventing renewable projects from hooking up to the electricity grid as a reason for the package.

“There are nearly 2000 gigawatts of clean cheap energy stuck in the queue that we can’t currently connect to consumers,” he said. “That’s almost twice the total US electric generating capacity that could cut our bills and clean up our air. “

“The current process is arduous, expensive, and lined with bureaucratic red tape,” he added.

Broadly, calls to speed up the time to approve energy and infrastructure projects, which were supercharged late last year when Democrats struck a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to get a package done in exchange for his vote on their climate, tax and health care bill.

Those talks ultimately fell apart as Republicans said the package did not go far enough, while progressive Democrats raised concerns about its effects on local communities.

The draft released by Levin and Casten on Thursday did not appear to contain the provisions that progressives objected to.

Instead, it incorporated efforts to take steps to reach out to communities and consider the combined impacts that multiple infrastructure projects may have on one area.

It also seeks to bolster renewable energy by creating community solar programs, requiring the designation of “priority” areas for solar, wind and geothermal energy on public lands and saying that greenhouse gas emissions should factor into the wholesale costs of fossil-powered electricity.

It also seeks to bolster the infrastructure needed to transmit electricity, giving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission greater authority to approve transmission lines and boosting transmission between different regions of the country.

Building up electricity transmission is particularly important for getting carbon-free energy onto the grid, but increased transmission may also bolster any new natural gas plants that also come online.

Manchin’s bill also included provisions aimed at bolstering transmission — winning support from some climate hawks who said the changes are necessary to bolster renewable energy.

However, some Republicans objected to these provisions, citing concerns about states’ rights to reject transmission lines.