Biden’s infrastructure and climate goals depend on sustaining permitting reforms
President Biden has committed his administration to rebuilding America’s outdated infrastructure and accelerating the transition to a lower carbon future. As leaders of major American companies that operate in every economic sector, Business Roundtable CEOs strongly support the president’s goals to rebuild America and create a more resilient U.S. economy. This is why we strongly encourage the new administration to maintain and build on the bipartisan progress that has been made over the last decade to create a more efficient permitting system.
Repairing and modernizing our infrastructure and accelerating the energy transition to meet the president’s targets of carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035 and an electrified vehicle fleet will require a massive amount of new public and private sector investment put quickly to work. For example, transitioning to more sustainable energy systems will require electrification of the transportation sector, increased deployment of renewable power, and new energy storage and transmission systems.
And as we’ve seen in Texas and other parts of the country, enhancing the resiliency of existing energy networks is an essential undertaking for protecting the health and safety of millions of Americans.
This is an historically large undertaking and moving expeditiously is key to successfully addressing the climate challenge. A series of bipartisan reforms to the permitting process have gone a long way to position us well to actually realize these ambitious objectives, including the creation of the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council, established during the Obama administration.
In particular, the bipartisan 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST-41), signed into law by President Obama, established a more efficient environmental review and permitting process for major infrastructure projects that cost $200 million or more. An increasing number of large, complex wind, solar and renewable power transmission projects have leveraged the FAST-41 process to expedite permitting and approval. But FAST-41 will expire in December 2022 unless Congress and the president act to extend it. This looming “sunset” is already discouraging project proponents from opting into the FAST-41 process.
The previous administration reinvigorated this and other bipartisan reforms by issuing an executive order that better coordinated environmental reviews across federal agencies, establishing the more transparent and accountable “one federal decision” practice for multi-agency reviews, and setting a two-year goal for all federal permitting decisions. The Council on Environmental Quality similarly updated federal environmental review procedures to require timelines and coordination of reviews and dispute resolution across agencies.
In light of the new administration’s decision to withdraw that executive order as it seeks to ensure that climate impacts are appropriately accounted for across permitting decisions, we want to reiterate that equally crucial to the success of the administration’s climate and economic goals will be preserving the benefits of those existing mechanisms that have delivered a modernized infrastructure permitting process capable of bringing essential projects from conception to completion.
BRT’s CEOs have called for collective action to address climate change and are encouraged by President Biden’s early commitment to rejuvenating America’s infrastructure. We look forward to working with the administration to ensure we have a permitting system that’s equal to the task.
Douglas L. Peterson is president and CEO of S&P Global Inc. and chairs the Business Roundtable Smart Regulation Committee.