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Easier Said Than Done - Permitting for Energy Projects Proves to Be a Delicate Balancing Act

When it comes to proposals to build large-scale energy projects, whether it’s a new electric transmission line, a mining complex, or an interstate oil or gas pipeline, the permitting process can be a delicate balancing act. Nearly everyone understands that appropriate social and environmental safeguards are essential. At the same time, the permitting process can’t be so cumbersome that it takes a decade or more to build that transmission line, complete that mine, or get a pipeline into operation. There’s a general understanding that the permitting process needs to be improved but, as the title of today’s blog implies, it’s a whole lot easier said than done. In today’s RBN blog, we preview our latest Drill Down Report on the major themes around permitting reform and examine the factors that could help — or hinder — further efforts.

Attention around the need for permitting reform at the federal level has been building for the last couple of years, but until recently there has been relatively little to show for it. The highest-profile effort in recent years was headlined by Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia. As part of his agreement to support passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in August 2022, Manchin secured a commitment from Democratic leadership to hold a vote on a follow-up bill that would speed the permitting process for energy infrastructure, including addressing hang-ups relating to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; see Figure 1 below) and the long-delayed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) project. However, the bill died in late 2022 after it gained only 47 votes in the Senate, including just seven Republicans, who typically favor permitting reform but were upset at Manchin’s support for the IRA.

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