Comparing Permitting Reform Proposals Across the Political Spectrum

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This training reviews the various permitting reform proposals from progressives, centrists, and conservatives and their key provisions. To understand why permitting reform is important, see the clean energy permitting reform training page.
TOC and Guide Section
Overview of key clean energy permitting reform goals

To meet our climate targets, we must build clean energy faster. 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 to meeting our climate targets
  • Makes complementary climate policies more effective
  • Will save lives by cutting air pollution
  • Is emerging as the biggest opportunity to cut carbon pollution in the 118th Congress

For more background, see the clean energy permitting reform training page.

For details regarding each of the permitting reform proposals listed in the sections below, see this document summarizing their provisions and this spreadsheet comparing them.

Progressive proposals

A number of progressive policymakers and organizations have published outlines discussing the components they would like to see implemented in Congressional permitting reform. These include:

In general, the progressive proposals focus on giving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) more authority over the permitting process for electrical transmission lines. That’s because we’re very slow at building new transmission lines and they’re critically important to accelerating the clean energy transition. Many progressive proposals also call for early involvement and engagement of potentially impacted frontline communities in the permitting process.

Progressives’ primary concern is that a permitting reform deal could erode communities’ ability to participate in the permitting process through changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). For more details about progressives’ specific proposed permitting reform components, see the permitting reform provision sections below.

Conservative proposals

House Republicans devoted their first bill of 2023 – H.R. 1, the Lower Energy Costs Act (summarized here) – to an energy and permitting reform package. CCL does not support H.R. 1 because of the numerous fossil fuel provisions that were included, but it is encouraging that the first bill of the session – which is reserved for the issue that the House majority considers their top priority – included a focus on permitting reform. Additionally:

In general, the conservative proposals focus on revising NEPA in an effort to streamline the permitting process. Conservatives’ primary concern is in transferring too much permitting oversight authority from individual states to federal agencies like FERC. For more details about conservatives’ specific proposed permitting reform components, see the permitting reform provision sections below.

Centrist proposals

Toward the end of 2022, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) released a permitting reform package called the Energy Independence and Security Act (summarized here), and he re-introduced it in May 2023. This bill – which CCL recommended that senators vote in favor of in 2022 – is the most comprehensive permitting reform proposal from centrists, and will be one starting point for negotiations in 2023. Several centrist think tanks have also put forth permitting reform proposals:

Most of the centrist proposals combine some components of the permitting reform plans offered by progressives and conservatives. These include some  provisions to grant FERC more authority over the electrical transmission line permitting process, and some to streamline the NEPA permitting process. For more details about centrists’ specific proposed permitting reform components, see the permitting reform provision sections below.

Key clean energy permitting reform provisions

CCL is 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, and that allow communities to make their voices heard on the environmental and other impacts of proposed energy projects.

To achieve these three goals, there are a number of key provisions in the various permitting reform proposals that have the potential to garner bipartisan support in a Congressional permitting reform package.

Adding to America’s capacity to transmit clean electricity

Progressives and centrists have proposed a variety of mechanisms to achieve this goal. These generally involve giving FERC greater authority over the interstate transmission line permitting process. FERC currently has oversight over the interstate gas pipeline permitting process, but each individual state controls the permitting process for transmission lines. As a result, it takes roughly twice as long to permit an interstate electrical transmission line as an interstate gas pipeline. 

But in order to retain the support of conservatives, this provision would have to be structured in a way that doesn’t transfer too much authority from regional and state entities to the federal government. For example, the BIG WIRES Act would require adding a certain amount of transmission capacity between regions, with FERC only stepping in if individual regions fail to create their own plans.

Fights over who will pay for new electrical transmission lines can also often bog down these projects. To alleviate this bottleneck, progressives and centrists have also proposed giving FERC the authority to allocate transmission project costs proportional to the benefits received from their services.

Finally, progressives have proposed the creation of an Office of Transmission within FERC, to focus on the important national need for more electrical transmission lines.

Speeding up the approval of clean energy projects

Proposals from across the political spectrum have suggested numerous ways to achieve this goal. Several of these focus on interagency coordination, because big energy projects often require permitting oversight from several different federal agencies. Progressives, centrists, and conservatives have all proposed that in such a scenario, a lead agency should be designated that would make final decisions with input from the other participating agencies. And in the case of a dispute between agencies, several proposals would set a clear resolution procedure, for example by requiring the federal agencies to meet and resolve the dispute within a specific timeframe. Several other proposals would compel agencies to set transparent permitting project timelines.

A number of other proposed provisions would expand or apply similar strategies to those passed in Title 41 of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, also known as “FAST-41.” FAST-41 created the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council, which is comprised of fairly high-level federal agency representatives and is aimed at accelerating the permitting of important projects by setting a lead agency, developing a project-specific plan, setting a timetable for the completion of environmental reviews and authorizations, and utilizing an online permitting dashboard to create project timeline transparency.

To qualify for FAST-41, a project must currently require a total investment of more than $200 million, but some permitting reform proposals would lower that threshold, for example to $50 million so that more projects could qualify. And some have proposed creating a transparent online permitting portal for NEPA projects, similar to FAST-41’s online permitting dashboard.

Another proposal from progressives and centrists to speed up clean energy project approvals would involve tasking federal agencies with identifying “go-to” areas on federal lands with low environmental sensitivity. These designated areas could then qualify for a shorter permitting environmental review process.

Preserving community input

An improved  permitting process should allow local communities to give real input on energy projects and choose good projects over bad ones. Good projects should be approved faster, and harmful projects should be rejected faster. This is a key permitting reform principle identified in a coalition letter led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and joined by CCL, which stated:

All relevant stakeholders must be adequately informed and have the opportunity to provide input within a reasonable and consistent timeframe.

To accomplish this goal while simultaneously speeding up clean energy project approvals, several progressive and centrist proposals have identified the importance of early community engagement. This would ensure that frontline communities are able to make their voices heard in the permitting process of projects that could directly impact them, while also reducing the risk of later lawsuits brought by groups whose input was excluded from the process.

Other proposed clean energy permitting reform provisions

Many other provisions have been proposed that may have a lesser impact on speeding up the clean energy permitting process.

Setting timelines and/or page limits for agency environmental documents. Taking a step beyond setting target timelines, some proposals from centrists and conservatives have suggested setting firm deadlines, for example one year for federal agencies to complete an environmental assessment and two years for an environmental impact statement, and potentially also setting page limits for these documents. While this would add another layer of accountability for agencies, some experts argue it might unduly rush the assessments, leading to flawed documents that could be subject to lawsuits, which could ultimately lengthen the permitting process. Giving agencies the option to request timeline extensions if necessary could help alleviate this concern, but it’s unclear whether this proposal would speed up or slow down the permitting process overall.

Designating projects of strategic national importance. Proposals from across the political spectrum have suggested designating a few dozen projects of such high national importance that they receive an expedited permitting review. But progressives believe these should be exclusively clean energy projects, conservatives believe they should be fossil fuel projects, and centrists believe there should be a combination of both. 

Setting shorter legal challenge time limits. NEPA lawsuits can currently be brought within six years of project completion – a long time that creates a lot of uncertainty for project developers. Centrists and conservatives have proposed shortening this time limit to anywhere between four months and two years.

Create an Office of Transmission in FERC. Transmission is such a critical and complicated issue for the clean energy transition that several progressive proposals have suggested creating a specific office within FERC to focus on this topic.

Reuse similar environmental documents. For projects in which environmental assessments have already been completed and the conditions have not significantly changed, some progressive and conservative proposals have suggested that those documents could be reused during the NEPA permitting process. These same proposals have also suggested that project applicants be allowed to contribute information for use in environmental documents.

FERC environmental justice liaisons. Several progressive proposals include provisions directing FERC to establish environmental justice liaisons to support consultation with frontline communities and tribal nations.

Reduce geothermal permitting barriers. Geothermal projects currently face extensive permitting requirements. Small oil and gas drilling projects on public lands have received categorical exclusion from NEPA environmental reviews since 2005; some centrist and conservative proposals would grant the same expedited process to geothermal drilling projects. And in H.R. 1, conservatives also proposed requiring yearly federal land lease sales for geothermal energy projects.


Permitting reform is emerging as the biggest opportunity to cut carbon pollution in this Congress. And permitting reform is critical to meeting our climate targets. If we don’t start building clean energy infrastructure faster, most of the potential climate pollution cuts from the Inflation Reduction Act won't be achievable and we'll fall well short of America’s Paris climate commitment. Permitting reform will also save lives by cutting air pollution. Without permitting reform, there will be many thousands more premature deaths, mostly in vulnerable communities near sources of pollution.

There are serious bipartisan efforts in both the Senate and the House happening on permitting reform. CCL recognizes the political realities of our democratic system, which forces compromise among lawmakers who have a range of priorities. As we work on this issue, we will evaluate any permitting reform proposals in the context of our principles and the key provisions outlined here, and we will do our best to support options closest to our ideal approach.

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Skip ahead to the following section(s):
  • (0:00) Intro & Agenda
  • (2:15) Quick permitting background
  • (10:06) What principles does CCL support?
  • (12:30) Progressive proposals
  • (14:12) Conservative proposals
  • (16:08) Centrist proposals
  • (18:42) Key permitting reform components
  • Dana Nuccitelli
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Press play to start the audio (35m 39s)
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Audio Outline
Skip ahead to the following section(s):
  • (0:00) Intro & Agenda
  • (2:15) Quick permitting background
  • (10:06) What principles does CCL support?
  • (12:30) Progressive proposals
  • (14:12) Conservative proposals
  • (16:08) Centrist proposals
  • (18:42) Key permitting reform components
  • Dana Nuccitelli
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