May 11, 2023, 7:53am EDT

Permitting reform gets a jolt

Reuters/Bonnie Cash

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Suddenly, it seems like everyone in Washington is talking about permitting reform.

In the House, Republicans are pushing to include sweeping proposals that would make it easier to develop fossil fuel projects in a debt ceiling deal. In the Senate, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are rolling dueling bills to speed up energy development while also meeting to discuss a potential bipartisan compromise.

And on Wednesday, the White House unveiled its own long list of permitting reform priorities, mostly focused on laying the groundwork for the speedy deployment of renewable energy.

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Speaking at the Bipartisan Policy Center on Wednesday, White House senior adviser John Podesta said permitting reform needs to be “delinked from a debt ceiling fight” but said it was possible a bill gets passed through regular order.

“We think there is opportunity in the Senate in particular,” Podesta said.

Lawmakers and lobbyists have been eying the possibility of a bipartisan deal to quicken the lengthy process of getting energy projects approved since the end of 2022, when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va. put forward a permitting proposal as a followup to the climate-focused Inflation Reduction Act. 

His bill foundered at the time. But permitting is still seen as the rare issue that draws interest from both conservatives, who want to streamline oil and gas development, as well as some progressives, who want to ensure the U.S. can quickly build new wind and solar and hook it to the electricity grid.

This week’s burst of activity suggests a new degree of momentum.

“I do see real possibilities here,” Marty Durbin, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, told Semafor. Durbin said his organization would like to see a bill passed by the end of summer and that it is “not out of the realm of possibility” that the debt ceiling conversations push the parties toward a bipartisan compromise.

The issue will take center stage later today on Capitol Hill, when Manchin, who has revived his proposal from last year, leads a hearing on permitting reform as chairman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources. The top Republican on the committee, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., has his own proposal, too.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., a close Biden ally, plans to introduce a third blueprint before Memorial Day, an aide told Semafor. Carper said recently that his legislation would focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, encouraging community engagement, and give businesses “certainty and predictability.”

A Republican aide on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee confirmed that Carper, Manchin, Barrasso, and West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelly Moore Capito have met on permitting reform and are planning to meet again during the current work period.

But Democrats and Republicans have significant differences they need to overcome in order to reach a deal that can pass not only the Senate but the House and also have the blessing of the White House.

The biggest sticking point thus far seems to be prioritizing permitting for electric transmission lines, which will help accelerate the Biden administration’s envisioned clean energy transition. The GOP proposals, including the Republican energy bill that passed the House earlier this year, do not even address electric transmission, but Democrats say it is non-negotiable and must be included.


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