Lawmakers eye compromise bill to bolster power lines in permitting negotiations

Source: By RACHEL FRAZIN, The Hill • Posted: Monday, May 29, 2023

Central Maine Power utility lines are seen on Oct. 6, 2021, in Pownal, Maine. It’s one of President Biden’s thorniest challenges as he pursues ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

Lawmakers appear to be considering a compromise bill to bolster the nation’s power lines as part of efforts to tie energy permitting reforms to legislation that would lift the debt ceiling.

A source briefed on the issue told The Hill that transmission legislation from Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) and Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) was being considered as a tradeoff for some modest changes to a bedrock environmental law that Republicans say drags out environmental reviews for energy projects.

The person described the talks as serious but ongoing and not completely settled.

Both Republicans and some Democrats have expressed support for the idea of permitting reform, that is, speeding up the approval process for energy and possibly other infrastructure projects. But, each party has different ideas about how to do it, with Republican proposals focused largely on reforming procedures in environmental laws and bolstering fossil fuels while Democrats have honed in on supporting renewable energy and electricity transmission.

It appears that each side would get least something they want with the proposal at hand.

Democrats have said that bolstering the nation’s power capacity is key to their support for any kind of changes to environmental laws, as electric infrastructure is important for the buildout of renewable energy.

According to a one-pager, the bill in question would require the nation’s grid regions to be able to transfer a significant amount of energy between each other. They can do so through new transmission lines, upgrading existing facilities, energy efficiency measures, new power sources or other upgrades, the one-pager said.

It does not appear to include a provision that many Democrats have pushed for: giving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the authority to direct the buildout of power lines that it finds to be in the nation’s interest. It’s not clear whether enough of them would be satiated by the bill in question.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) indicated on Thursday that there was still more to work out on permitting reform.

“A lot of the items that are still in discussion are not resolved,” he said when asked about the topic.

Reached for comment, White House spokesperson Michael Kikukawa reaffirmed the administration’s support for permitting reform but declined to detail ongoing discussions

“We’ve been clear we support permitting reform, with Senior Advisor John Podesta outlining our priorities earlier this month,” he said via email. “We have seen bipartisan support for permitting reform and certainly hope there is bipartisan progress. But we’re not going to detail what negotiators are discussing.”

Mychael Schnell contributed.