Energy & Environment

Senate Democrats enter permitting fray with proposal focused on climate, electricity and environmental impacts

A group of Senate Democrats on Thursday unveiled their opening position in an ongoing debate over whether and how to try to overhaul the country’s process for approving energy and other infrastructure projects. 

The new proposal spearheaded by Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) focuses on renewable energy, community involvement and building out the nation’s power lines. 

Carper, in a written statement, said that the bill’s reforms would work in conjunction with Democrats’ climate, tax and healthcare bill, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, to achieve the nation’s climate goals. 

“After enacting historic infrastructure and clean energy investments last Congress, we need efficient permitting processes that allow our nation to meet our climate goals with the urgency that science demands,” he said. 

“Our bill would improve the permitting process without undermining our nation’s bedrock environmental protections,” he added. 

He also described the bill as a “discussion draft.”

It comes after a proposal from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) that seeks to speed up energy infrastructure buildout more broadly and a pair of bills from Republicans that seek to speed up timelines in general in addition to building out more fossil fuel energy.

No party is necessarily likely to get everything it wants, but the latest proposal represents where Democrats stand in the ongoing negotiations. 

The bill would seek to set a two year-timeline for completing environmental reviews specifically for projects that avoid planet–warming emissions or remove them from the air or that help protect communities from climate impacts. The bills from Republicans and Manchin seek a two-year timeline for all projects, not just those that combat climate change. 

The Democrats’ bill would also seek to give federal regulators more authority to plan transmission lines.

For projects generally, the bill would seek to require the consideration of a project’s cumulative impacts — that is, how its impacts may combine with those of other polluting or otherwise harmful projects that already exist to look at the totality of the impact on a community. 

It would also allow agencies to require companies that propose projects to enter into a  Community Benefits Agreement to offset significant harms that a project may cause.

The bill is also being backed by Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Tina Smith (Minn.) and Chris Murphy (Conn.).

Discussions of permitting reform were supercharged last year when Manchin struck a deal with Democratic leaders to pass measures to speed up energy approvals in exchange for voting for their Inflation Reduction Act bill. 

A proposal from Manchin last year ultimately got 47 votes in favor — supported by 40 Democrats and seven Republicans, but opposed by both progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans. 

Since then, House Republicans have sought to speed up the discussion and floated getting a permitting reform deal into a proposal to lift the debt ceiling. But, they need to reach a debt ceiling deal by June 1, according to the Treasury Department, which may not give the senators enough time to iron out their differences. 

Tags Brian Schatz Brian Schatz Chris Murphy Community Benefits Agreement Inflation Reduction Act joe manchin Joe Manchin power lines Renewable energy Sheldon Whitehouse Tina Smith Tom Carper Tom Carper

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