An Introduction To Clean Energy Permitting Reform

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This training covers one part of CCL’s policy agenda, Clean Energy Permitting Reform. It provides an overview why this is an important policy area for addressing climate change, and what types of policies CCL supports.
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Why Clean Energy Permitting Reform is important

It’s time to build America’s clean energy economy. Permitting reform will make that possible by unlocking clean energy infrastructure that’s waiting to be built, and by getting that clean energy to American households and businesses. Permitting reform will speed up our ability to build and connect new energy projects, getting good projects up and running quickly, while protecting vulnerable communities.

Permitting reform is critical if we’re going to make the clean energy transition happen fast enough to meet our climate targets. If we don’t start building clean energy infrastructure faster, we will only achieve about 20% of the potential carbon pollution reduction from climate policy that is already in place (specifically, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022). And, permitting reform will also make a carbon price much more effective at reducing carbon pollution.

We’ve got to speed up the pace with which we build new clean energy projects, but our current permitting process makes that tough. For example, it takes an average of 4.5 years for federal agencies to complete environmental impact statements for major energy projects. These are important assessments, but we need them to move faster. 

We need to quickly increase our clean electricity transmission capacity. In the past decade, the U.S. has expanded our electricity transmission infrastructure at a pace of just 1% per year. We have to speed that up — ultimately, we need to triple our current capacity to transmit clean electricity by 2050. New clean energy projects rely on building new long distance transmission lines, a process which currently takes 10 years on average

For more information see CCL's Advanced Training on Clean Energy Permitting Reform.

Addressing concerns about Clean Energy Permitting Reform

People sometimes raise concerns about making changes to our permitting process because they worry that it may prevent communities and organizations from having their voices heard in the process.

CCL agrees that permitting reform should be done in a way that empowers communities to weigh in on what projects happen in their area. Communities should be able to give input to address environmental and other impacts in a streamlined process. 

CCL also recognizes the political realities of our democratic system, which forces compromise among lawmakers who have a range of priorities. As we begin to work on this issue, we will evaluate any permitting reform proposals in the context of our principles outlined here, and we will do our best to support options closest to our ideal approach.

People also raise concerns that permitting reform could allow for new infrastructure that could cause harm to communities from pollution, especially in disadvantaged communities.

CCL believes that permitting reform should be done in a way that minimizes the negative health impacts from air pollution and other pollution in frontline communities, where lives are already being lost due to pollution from fossil fuels. Climate policy already in place (specifically, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022) could prevent up to 180,000 premature American deaths over the next decade by reducing air pollution. But if transmission build-out is too slow, we may not fully realize the potential emissions cuts from that policy. That means many thousands more premature deaths, mostly in disadvantaged communities near sources of pollution. 

Permitting reform will benefit clean energy projects more than fossil fuel projects. Our current politics make it impossible to reform energy permitting just for clean energy projects and not fossil fuel projects. But permitting reform will largely benefit clean energy projects. Reports from the U.S. Energy Information Administration find that in each of the past three years, 84% of new energy capacity was clean energy. More than 95% of new energy projects currently awaiting permits are solar and wind and battery storage, and less than 5% are natural gas.

Types of policy CCL supports

CCL advocates for ‘good permitting reform’ that maximizes benefits for the climate and protects health and safety in American communities. It is important that any legislation do two things: 

  • Drives down carbon pollution by speeding up approval for good clean energy projects
  • Protects the health and safety of American people and communities 

To achieve those goals, we are interested in policies that: 

  • Add to America’s capacity to transmit clean electricity
  • Speed up the approval of clean energy projects that are waiting to be built
  • Allow communities to make their voices heard on the environmental and other impacts of proposed energy projects.
How we will engage

For Clean Energy Permitting Reform, most of our engagement will be on federal legislation. There may also be opportunities to engage locally on issues related to the siting and permitting of clean energy projects. Learn about local and state experiences with clean energy permitting reform.

Also, due to the complexity of this issue, we do not envision doing significant grassroots recruitment or outreach on this topic, as it is not an easy entry point into climate advocacy for new people. Therefore most of our advocacy in this area will be using the following levers of political will.

  • Lobbying Congress
  • Media
  • Grasstops outreach
More information and answers to frequently asked questions

For more information and answers to frequently asked questions, see CCL's Advanced Training on Clean Energy Permitting Reform.

Length
Press play to start the video (7m 14s)
https://vimeo.com/showcase/9989148
Video Outline
Skip ahead to the following section(s):
  • (0:00) Intro & agenda
  • (1:42) Why is this important?
  • (2:58) Addressing concerns
  • (4:44) How CCL will engage
Instructor(s)
  • Tony Sirna
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Audio length
Press play to start the audio (7m 14s)
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Audio Outline
Skip ahead to the following section(s):
  • (0:00) Intro & agenda
  • (1:42) Why is this important?
  • (2:58) Addressing concerns
  • (4:44) How CCL will engage
 
Instructor(s)
  • Tony Sirna
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Climate Policy
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Google Slides