Did President Biden Find Religion On Permitting Reform? Not So Fast.

During a speech at the White House on Wednesday, President Biden made some notable remarks in support of reforming the permitting process. The president’s words could potentially breathe fresh air into legislation sponsored by Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), which failed to pass Congress earlier this fall. That said, the president’s track record is far from perfect on this topic, and with an election just a few short weeks away, you never know whether politics is influencing his rhetoric. The long and short of it is that meaningful permitting reform is a long way away from becoming reality.

According to Politico reporter Joshua Siegel, Biden stated that “Our country needs to pass permitting reform to accelerate the development of clean energy.” This isn’t the first time he’s voiced support for changes that would speed up the review process for energy projects. He was also a supporter of Manchin’s earlier bill.

Biden understands that his legacy depends in part on permitting reform. The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act includes $369 billion in new spending on energy security and climate change. However, progressive visions of a renewable energy future will not be a reality any time soon in a world where it can take 14 years to permit power lines.

One question is whether Biden’s words represent a serious attempt to bring new life into this debate, or if they are just more empty political rhetoric meant to appeal to moderates in the weeks leading up to an election.

If he is serious, he might ordinarily hit the road, spreading the good news about the benefits of more energy and infrastructure. However, he has a pretty significant problem on his hands. A rift has formed in the Democratic Party between those who want permitting sped up to facilitate the adoption of renewables, and those who see just about any energy development as bad for the environment and want to slow the process down instead.

When one actually digs into the details of administration proposals, these often come across as watered-down attempts to bridge the divide between the two factions. A Biden Administration Permitting Action Plan that was announced last May, for example, tasked agencies with setting timeline goals and identifying metrics to measure performance. But much of the plan related to boosting “community engagement,” which occurs when government officials meet with states, tribal nations, local community groups, and other interested parties before allowing projects to proceed.

Both sound good in theory, but in practice there wasn’t much teeth to the reforms. The action plan relied on an obscure government permitting committee for oversight. Meanwhile, community engagement often just creates more veto points in an already labyrinthine permitting process.

As Jerusalem Demsas of The Atlantic recently pointed out, allowing so many different groups to have a say—groups that, by the way, are in no way representative of the public at large—is a recipe for stagnation. Pleasing everyone is often impossible, so sometimes the government just needs to make a decision, otherwise nothing gets done.

We should give Biden the benefit of the doubt that he has some fight left in him on this issue. That said, some of his own administration’s prior proposals, along with the upcoming election, leave plenty of reason for healthy skepticism. Will the next incarnation of “permitting reform” involve less bureaucracy, not more? Only time will tell. Unfortunately, the way of politics is that the law of CYA tends to hold much more sway than that of ASAP.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesbroughel/2022/10/20/did-president-biden-find-religion-on-permitting-reform-not-so-fast/