For years, people proposing projects in the United States have complained about burdensome and uncertain regulations and interpretations of law that make building anything extremely difficult.  Now that Biden is pushing to convert the electric grid to more renewable energy, often found many miles from demand centers, the same people who have opposed projects in the past are now complaining it is slowing down Biden’s “green energy” programs.  Bipartisan members of Congress have been working on legislation to provide a better framework that will allow the country to start building again.

The Biden administration, however, is not waiting for Congress to pass a comprehensive permit reform bill that encompasses all fuels and technologies, and instead it is pursuing permit reform for its favorite technologies and endeavors. As part of the Earth Day events, it has launched initiatives to boost the nation’s electric grid infrastructure, including a final rule to streamline the permitting and approval of large transmission projects necessary to move electricity from rural areas with wind and solar power to demand centers. The Department of Energy (DOE) created a one-stop shop for federal permitting by helping transmission developers avoid the lengthy regulatory approvals that has slowed major projects. The program makes DOE the lead agency in permitting and finalizes a multi-administration effort to coordinate the work of at least nine agencies that deal with permitting power lines. The program sets deadlines so that the permit authorization process is completed within two years—a process that currently can take more than a decade due to permitting delays, lawsuits and other challenges that emerge from placing electricity lines across public and private land.

Some transmission projects have been in development in many cases for more than a decade. The SunZia Wind and Transmission line, which will carry electricity from New Mexico to Arizona and into Southern California, for example, took 16 years to complete the federal permitting process. The 125-mile Ten West Link transmission line between Arizona and Southern California was proposed in 2016 but did not break ground until 2022. According to DOE, the Ten West Link is now operational and will transmit generation from over 3,200 megawatts of solar capacity in the West.

DOE Coordination and Goals

DOE has lead agency authority through the Coordinated Interagency Transmission Authorization and Permits (CITAP) program that was granted by Congress almost two decades ago and only recently was implemented. DOE has set a goal to upgrade 100,000 miles of transmission lines in the next five years, including by deploying technologies such as high-performance conductors and dynamic line ratings to make existing lines carry more power. The goal will be supported by funding through the Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships (GRIP) program, which will use $10.5 billion taxpayer dollars to help wind and solar get to market.

DOE’s announcement also includes a push to speed the deployment of advanced power cables to replace older high-voltage lines as a faster means of increasing power flows over congested existing transmission corridors. Advanced power lines are lighter and stronger and manufacturers can wrap the lines with more aluminum sheathing that increases the current the lines can handle, but which also increases the upfront costs. In a recent review of advanced grid technology, the department noted that only $6 billion of nearly $90 billion spent on electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure in 2023 went for advanced grid solutions.

DOE also announced up to $331 million in funding from the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law for a new transmission line that will carry more than 2,000 megawatts of electricity from Idaho to Nevada. The 285-mile Southwest Intertie Project-North line from Great Basin Transmission, a subsidiary of LS Power, is part of a larger set of projects to supply wind, geothermal and solar energy north and south between Idaho and the Las Vegas area.

A rule was also added that provides new transmission projects with the simplest and fastest compliance requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for power line replacement projects using advance cabling in existing transmission rights-of-way. In the past, the standard environmental compliance rules have provided power line opponents with legal leverage to challenge infrastructure projects impacting federally owned or managed lands.

Advocates of the energy transition believe that even though the Biden administration is improving the pace of transmission construction, grid expansion must quicken even more to meet the nation’s decarbonization goals and support the build-out of renewable energy.

Other Government Initiatives

The Department of Interior (DOI) has measures to reduce costs and expedite projects on public lands, so long as they further Biden’s climate goals.  The Department of Treasury has collaborated with the DOE to allocate generous tax credits under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has moved forward with major transmission reforms, including a final rule to streamline the interconnection process. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has taken steps to accelerate its review of advanced nuclear reactor types as part of an effort to support the deployment and development of new nuclear technologies.

Congressional Inaction

While President Biden wants permitting reform for transmission and renewable projects, many in Congress, including Senator Joe Manchin sought reform for all forms of energy, including pipeline projects. In 2022, according to Senator Manchin, Democratic leaders had committed to advancing a suite of commonsense permitting reforms that will ensure all energy infrastructure, from transmission to pipelines and export facilities, can be efficiently and responsibly built. With that promise, Manchin agreed to the “Inflation Reduction Act” that passed the Senate and House along party lines. Even with that assurance, the Mountain Valley pipeline to move natural gas from West Virginia to southern Virginia originally set for completion in 2018, would not become fully operational until May 2024—almost 2 years after the assurances were made to Senator Manchin for his deciding vote favoring Biden’s climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act. The pipeline faced permitting and legal delays that increased its cost from the original estimate of $3.5 billion to over $6.6 billion.

Due to conflicting priorities among the members of Congress, comprehensive permitting reform is in limbo, and Biden is pushing forward with his pet projects that support his climate agenda, as noted above, apparently unconcerned with objections from environmental groups who normally oppose all efforts to streamline government red tape. Moreover, while Biden’s climate plans call for enormous increases in the consumption of minerals necessary for technologies behind his green energy transition, his record on mining is dismal, having rejected numerous mines and recently rejecting a road project by the State of Alaska meant to access highly mineralized lands owned by the state.

Data Show Comprehensive Permitting Reform is Needed

While the Biden initiatives demonstrate the need for permitting reform for transmission projects, current data show that permitting reform is needed for pipelines, whether they move oil, natural gas or sequestered carbon. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that interstate natural gas pipeline capacity additions reached a record low in 2022 based on data collected since 1995. In 2022, 897 million cubic feet per day of interstate natural gas pipeline capacity was added from five projects and those five projects focused primarily on upgrading compressor stations, with only one project adding a relatively small amount of new pipe. The 2022 gas pipeline capacity additions were just 3 percent of the record amount added (28,040 million cubic feet per day) in 2017. Regulatory hurdles are clearly stymying growth in pipeline capacity and thus natural gas production, which points to much-needed permitting reform for interstate pipelines. More natural gas will be necessary to affordably back-up intermittent and weather-driven wind and solar projects.


The Department of Energy (DOE) as the lead federal agency has plans to expedite the permitting process for new transmission lines among federal agencies and make critical grid upgrades over the next five years. The program sets deadlines so that the permit authorization process is completed within two years—a process that currently can take more than a decade due to permitting delays, lawsuits and other challenges that emerge from placing electricity lines across public and private property in multi-state areas. A new rule to smooth out the NEPA requirements for transmission projects is to aid in meeting the goals. Comprehensive permitting reform is needed but Congress is stymied by conflicting priorities among the players. As a result, Biden is able to push his administration to permitting reform for his “politically correct” renewable and transmission technologies and ignore much needed energy that drives the nation and that Americans need.

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