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Legalize clean energy projects

Guests tour the five turbines of America’s first offshore wind farm, owned by the Danish company, Orsted, off the coast of Block Island, R.I., as part of a wind power conference, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Building new clean energy projects is practically illegal. Don’t believe me? Take one look at our energy permitting process.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) costs energy companies an average of four and a half years and potentially millions of dollars to permit new projects. While a review process is important, our current system handicaps America and our goals.

The most striking example of our failed system is Vineyard Wind, an offshore wind farm off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. Bureaucratic red tape has delayed the project for nearly a decade. Massachusetts could be benefitting from clean wind energy right now if it weren’t for the project being stuck in permitting limbo. Even more recently, the long-delayed Plant Vogtle nuclear facility in Georgia had a setback during pre-operational testing that required Georgia Power to install a pipe brace. In practice, it’s an easy fix, but current permitting regulations require a licensing amendment to be filed, an ultimate cost upward of $30 million.

Reducing emissions necessitates clean energy and infrastructure development, but our government stands in its own way through unnecessary roadblocks. Currently, transportation and electricity generation combined account for more than 50 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions. The further deployment of clean energy technologies would drive down these numbers if not for the glacial pace of government.

As my colleague Chris Barnard wrote last year, we’ve made it nearly impossible to build in America. The United States has some of the highest environmental standards in the world — something we absolutely should not sacrifice — but that doesn’t mean we can’t build a clean energy future. We can review energy projects efficiently while also protecting our environment; it’s not a binary choice.

When Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) proposed permitting reform last year after the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, climate activists immediately branded it a “dirty deal.” Yet, an R Street Institute study shows that 65 percent of projects held up in our current permitting process are not fossil fuel-related, but instead, clean energy projects. Those who say permitting reform would be a hand-out to fossil fuel companies are either lying or misinformed.

For years, leaders in both parties have agreed that we need substantial reform to our energy project permitting process. Allowing partisan politics to get in the way of this much-needed action would be a grave mistake in our fight against climate change. The 118th Congress must work expeditiously across ideological lines to ensure we uphold high environmental standards while speeding up the approval process for clean energy projects we desperately need.

We must legalize clean energy development. Through the removal of burdensome regulatory barriers and expediting the approval process, we will reduce emissions and fight climate change at a quicker rate than if we do not. Allowing decades of delays and millions of dollars in fees to stand in our way is unacceptable.

Stephen Perkins is the vice president of grassroots strategy at the American Conservation Coalition Action (ACC Action).

Tags Climate change Energy Energy reform Fossil fuels Joe Manchin permitting reform Renewable energy

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