April 18, 2023
U.S. Representative, California
Senior Vice President, U.S. Chamber Global Energy Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Climate scientists have warned that the world must cut emissions by 60% by 2035 to limit the planet’s temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. With this in mind, the U.S. has a clear role to play in addressing climate change.
During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Permit America to Build event, Christopher Guith, Senior Vice President of the Global Energy Institute at the Chamber, sat down with U.S. Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA). During this fireside chat, Peters discussed America’s energy future and why permitting reform is necessary to achieve these crucial climate goals.
Lengthy Permitting Processes Are Delaying Clean Energy Projects
The government has provided funding to build a cleaner, more secure energy system through legislation — such as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) — but Peters emphasized that acting faster to achieve climate goals is essential.
“It is procedurally impossible to hit our climate goals under our current system,” Peters said. “Look at high-voltage electric transmission lines; according to research from Princeton University, 80% of the projected emissions reductions from the [IRA] depend on building transmission faster.”
Permitting in the United States is an issue across all clean energy technologies, causing delays in the completion of vital projects.
“Permitting timelines have doubled since the 1970s, and nearly half of all clean energy projects are delayed in the permitting process compared to just 15% for fossil fuels,” Peters added. “Many of the clean energy projects are supported in the [IRA], whether it's offshore wind, geothermal, or interstate transmission lines, won't come online until after 2030. We likely must deploy solar and wind five to six times our historical pace to reach 80% clean power by 2030.”
Faster Action and More Efficient Systems Are Necessary for Sustainable Infrastructure Development
To build sustainable infrastructure more quickly, Peters suggests reducing the level of review for climate projects on non-sensitive land while keeping polluting projects heavily scrutinized.
“We could tweak our judicial review processes to protect vulnerable communities while preventing wealthy ‘NIMBYs’ and bad actors from blocking essential clean energy projects, so we can give interstate transmission lines and geothermal projects the same favorable treatment as oil and gas and ensure the federal government has the authority to build a reliable environmental grid,” Peters said.
Peters acknowledged that Republicans have introduced some promising ideas, such as creating a better process for determining the level of review to apply to a project and reusing existing data instead of reinventing the wheel. Bipartisan compromise is possible, he said, and the community should advocate for comprehensive permitting reform.
“Whether you care about public transportation, chip manufacturing facilities, hydrogen hubs, or offshore wind. Our current permitting system is slowing deployment and should be modernized,” Peters said. “We have to grow our coalitions of support for environmental [and] permitting reform. Our tasks will affect everyone from developers to workers to local communities.”
Collaborating with Bipartisan Groups Can Promote Solutions
Reforming laws and regulations surrounding environmental permits is essential for maintaining a stable climate. Peters, who is also the Chair of the Climate Change and Clean Energy Task Force, is working with both Republicans and Democrats to create bipartisan legislation to reform permitting processes at the state, federal, and local levels.
Peters believes that collaboration is an important aspect of addressing environmental issues and solving problems. He is partnering with Bruce Westerman, Republican Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, to address environmental issues.
“He's got a lot of insights on how … forestry management can be improved in California, to say the least,” he said. “That's an expertise that we can use, and that's … how you solve problems.”
Another challenge Peters discussed is potential reform within the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA, which requires public input to ensure federal agencies assess the environmental impacts, is “inevitably, and almost by design, slow,” according to Peters.
“NEPA is also the most litigated environmental statute. Lawsuits can drag on projects for more than a decade, and the simple threat of litigation can prevent new projects,” Peters explained, noting that ongoing delays continue to threaten communities and endangered species.
To address this issue, Peters formed a coalition and sent a letter to Congress signed by 350 groups to push for NEPA reform. He also urged businesses to talk to their representatives and educate them about specific experiences and issues to promote solutions.
“This is not a problem Washington can solve on its own,” he said. “We’ll need your help in identifying the roadblocks in our system today and your ideas on how we can build infrastructure faster without sacrificing environmental integrity.”