President Biden outlined a set of permitting reform objectives designed to support his administration’s climate agenda, but made no reference to incentivizing the production of domestic oil and gas, which still powers almost 70 percent of the U.S. economy. Instead, Biden’s outline calls for “responsible” mining of critical minerals, a faster permitting process for renewable energy projects on federal lands and additional grid capacity—reforms needed to implement his green energy transition. While the White House noted the administration’s support for Senator Joe Manchin’s recently reintroduced permitting reform bill — the Building American Energy Security Act of 2023 — the White House made no show of support for the parts of the bill that streamlined permitting for natural gas pipelines and other fossil fuel projects. The Building American Energy Security Act of 2023 would implement a two-year limit on environmental reviews for energy projects, have the president designate 25 high-priority energy projects for expedited permitting and secure permits to include the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300 mile natural gas pipeline that spans West Virginia and Virginia and would help grow West Virginia’s burgeoning shale gas industry.
On May 10, the White House issued an order directing agencies to ease the siting and permitting of interstate transmission lines until legislation is passed. Biden has 11 priorities that he wants in a new permitting law, including helping clean energy projects like wind and solar, setting new goals for renewable energy development on federal lands and faster deployment of electrical transmission across state lines made necessary in part by remote wind and solar installations. In addition, the White House urged new hydrogen and carbon dioxide infrastructure development, elimination of duplicative environmental reviews, improved community engagement and funding for aligned community groups.
In March, the House of Representatives passed the Lower Energy Costs Act (H.R. 1)–a comprehensive legislative package aimed at increasing American energy production and enacting permitting reform to reduce regulatory burdens associated with the development of infrastructure projects, which is the top priority for the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill proposes fast-tracking the approval process for American energy production on federal lands, expediting hard rock mining, repealing the natural gas tax to make it easier to transport and export American natural gas, and expediting the permitting process for critical projects. Additionally, the bill proposes reforming the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and provides for a streamlined permitting process for all federally impacted projects.
While agreeing to compromise on the Manchin bill, White House senior advisor on clean energy innovation, John Podesta, heavily criticized the House energy bill, which was included in the package proposed by Speaker Kevin McCarthy to avoid a default on the federal debt. According to Podesta, the bill’s proposals would be “catastrophic for our economy,” without offering any proof.
Permitting Reform Is Needed
Permitting reform is needed not only for President Biden’s politically correct projects, but for ensuring that the United States has the energy to move its economy forward and to continue to give its residents the lifestyles to which they are accustomed and for which they worked hard to achieve. Despite decades of federal aid to wind and solar projects and state mandates, wind and solar supplied just 5.7 percent of U.S. energy demand and 13.7 percent of U.S. electricity generation last year. According to UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment Mariam Almheiri, “The renewable space is advancing and accelerating extremely fast but we are nowhere near to be able to say that we can switch off fossil fuels and solely depend on clean and renewable energy.”
But, President Biden and his administration want to do just that. President Biden told his federal agencies to ensure climate change is factored into their work and even issued that edict to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)—a politically independent agency in charge of certain energy activities including natural gas permitting. His administration has been so diligent in those matters that the Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently reported that interstate natural gas pipeline capacity additions reached a record low in 2022 based on data collected over 27 years. In 2022, 897 million cubic feet per day of interstate natural gas pipeline capacity was added from five projects, 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. Since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has to approve new interstate natural gas pipeline capacity, the news speaks loudly regarding its motivations as does President Biden’s promise to cause the demise of the U.S. oil and gas industry stated during his campaign. Regulatory hurdles are clearly stymying growth in pipeline capacity and thus to natural gas production, which points to much-needed permitting reform for interstate pipelines.
The Mountain Valley pipeline is a good example of why permitting reform is needed. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a 303-mile pipeline from northern West Virginia, through Southwest Virginia, and connecting with an existing pipeline near the North Carolina line. It was originally set for completion in 2018 and is now 94 percent complete. Permitting delays and court action have increased the pipeline’s cost from the original estimate of $3.5 billion to $6.6 billion—costs that will be factored in consumer bills. If all goes well in court and with obtaining remaining permits, Equitrans Midstream Corp., the lead partner in the project, hopes to have the remaining work done in time for the pipeline to begin transporting natural gas by the end of this year. West Virginia needs new outlets for its growing natural gas business and this pipeline would assist in that goal. Mountain Valley pipeline alone would add more than double the capacity of total U.S. interstate pipeline additions last year.
While Biden is saying the United States needs permitting reform for expanding and accelerating responsible domestic production of critical minerals, Biden has been making it more difficult to mine those resources in the United States by removing lands from mining, revoking leases, delaying permits and listing wildflowers as endangered. That means the United States will become dependent on China for them. John Podesta, Biden’s clean energy czar, remarked that the Chinese energy and technology industries will play a major role in future domestic energy production. Podesta said Chinese companies will be “big players” in U.S. energy production and electric vehicle manufacturing. He noted that the companies would be able to take advantage of the Inflation Reduction Act and the Chips and Science Act, two laws the Biden administration would use to bolster American supply chains. Even Secretary of Energy Granholm said that “We can all learn from China.” That is because China has 80 percent of the processing capability for the critical minerals needed for renewables and electric vehicles and has been opening mines and processing facilities rather than closing them as in the United States. So, Biden, Podesta and Granholm are telling Americans that we need to be 4 times more dependent on China for our future energy needs than we were on the Middle East for oil.
While the Biden administration is touting that the United States needs permitting reform, it only wants it for its pet, politically correct projects—a tiny fraction of all the projects that Americans need to develop its economy and continue American lifestyles to which residents are accustomed. Further, even though the Biden Administration is indicating they want critical mineral mining projects, its track record since January 20, 2021 shows the opposite. The Biden administration has withdrawn leases, delayed permits, listed plants as endangered, while allowing China to continue and extend its dominance of the supply chains in the critical mineral and EV battery arena. If Biden continues with his green energy transition, the United States will be 4 times as dependent on China—an autocratic government—as it was on the Middle East for oil. Americans need to be diligent of what is truly happening and not accept the Biden administration words as gospel. Actions speak much louder than words.