WASHINGTON, D.C. — On April 26, 2023, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee will hold an oversight hearing to examine stakeholder perspectives on improving coordination, predictability and efficiency in the environmental review and permitting process to support a clean energy transition.
Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“We are here today to discuss an important and timely topic: opportunities to reform our nation’s environmental review and permitting processes in a way that supports our transition to a clean energy economy and the good-paying jobs that come with it. As we look for new opportunities, it’s also helpful to understand what we’ve already accomplished.
“Over the past two years, Congress has been incredibly productive. That includes passing a once-in-a-generation investment to rebuild our infrastructure as well as the largest investment to address climate change. Much of this work was bipartisan, and I’m proud to say that much of it was led by this committee.
“Now, we must work to implement these laws without delay. Why, you might ask? As many of you know, a recent report by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that our planet is currently on a path to reaching 1.5 degrees Celsius in global warming within the next decade—a critical tipping point in our ability to address climate change.
“Fortunately, we have made significant progress in supporting clean energy projects across our country and improving the permitting process without undermining bedrock environmental protections.
“In the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we made the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council permanent and expanded its authorities to reduce permitting timelines for large infrastructure projects. Doing so will reduce the time it takes to build critical infrastructure.
“In the Inflation Reduction Act, we provided $1 billion to the federal agencies tasked with completing those reviews and permits. These additional resources will address longstanding agency staffing challenges and help expedite timelines.
“We know these tools make a difference. For instance, the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council improves efficiency through better communication, coordination, and dispute resolution. Importantly, it does so without undermining or altering any statutory or regulatory requirements.
“This early coordination makes a clear difference in timelines. Between 2010 and 2018, the average time across all agencies for a project to complete an Environmental Impact Statement was 4.5 years. In contrast, the average time for projects that went through the FAST-41 process was 2.5 years.
“There are also examples of how the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, improves community outcomes. For example, in Michigan, the Department of Energy was completing NEPA at a site for a potential vehicle battery manufacturing facility. Through that process, they learned of dioxin contamination in the soil. As a result of NEPA, the Department of Energy incorporated mitigation controls to minimize the exposure for workers and children at a nearby daycare facility during construction.
“The private sector has a role to play as well. We know many businesses are already working hand-in-hand with communities.
“For example, in West Virginia, Clearway Energy Group has established a Community Benefit Fund that has provided roughly $180,000 in grants for projects in the communities surrounding the 23-turbine wind farm. The company also established a project labor agreement to ensure that construction jobs would go to the local labor force. These steps help build support for future projects to bring more reliability to the local electric grid.
“Still, I’m a firm believer that if something’s not perfect, let’s make it better. There’s more that Congress can and must do to improve our nation’s environmental review procedures and connect clean energy infrastructure to the grid. Or, to paraphrase my friend, Hal Harvey, markets are good at addressing 90 percent of our problems. It’s up to those of us in government to work on the other ten percent.
“We know that one of these challenges is connecting clean energy to the grid. A recent study by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab found that our nation has two terawatts of renewable energy capacity—such as solar, wind, and battery storage—waiting to connect to the grid. To put that figure in perspective, the total capacity of all existing power plants on the U.S. grid is currently 1.25 terawatts. That’s also almost double the amount of energy capacity we have today.
“Unfortunately, that same study also found that only one in five transmission projects seeking to connect to the grid from 2000 to 2017, were operational by the end of 2022. This report doesn’t account for the clean energy investments that are in development now as a result of the federal investments passed last Congress.
“To me, it is clear that we are at a crossroads. We need to find a way to bring a massive amount of clean energy onto our grid to mitigate the climate crisis. At the same time, we must make sure communities have a voice in the build-out of critical infrastructure.
“I believe that this balance is what separates us from countries like India and China. As a recovering governor, I know we can build infrastructure and create economic opportunity while also protecting the are we breathe, the water we drink, and the communities we call home from pollution.
“If we are going to make lasting changes to the authorities and procedures for environmental reviews and permits, the legislation must be bipartisan. The legislation also needs support from a broad coalition of stakeholders, from industry to environmental groups.
“To me, a bipartisan permitting reform package must do three things. First, it must result in lower emissions, not higher emissions, across our economy, while also maintaining the fundamental protections provided by our nation's bedrock environmental statutes. Second, a bipartisan permitting proposal must support early and meaningful community engagement in the development of projects, especially engagement with historically disadvantaged and underserved communities. Third, the legislation must provide businesses, in particular clean energy businesses, with certainty and predictability to help unlock economic growth and job creation across our country.
“As I said at the onset of our hearing, our committee has made tremendous progress recently in crafting bipartisan solutions to some of our nation’s biggest challenges. My hope is that we will build on that record of success.”