Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Senior Advisor for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation John Podesta at the CERAWeek Luncheon Keynote and Fireside Chat
March 6, 2023
Thank you so much, Dan. It’s great to be here at CERAWeek.
It’s no secret that the energy industry is changing. In these halls, experts are showcasing innovative energy technologies… clean hydrogen, sustainable aviation fuels, direct air capture.
Just a few years ago, many of these technologies were considered no more than a pipe dream.
There are many reasons for this shift—economics and energy security among them.
But let’s not understate the importance of the climate crisis.
Last year alone, climate-fueled extreme weather disasters in the U.S. caused over $165 billion in damage. The year before, it was $155 billion.
Those numbers include damage to fossil energy infrastructure. In 2021, Hurricane Ida caused flooding, dock damage, and millions in lost revenue at oil refineries in Louisiana.
On top of dealing with extreme weather, oil and gas companies are having to pay to adapt to climate change by raising offshore platforms in response to sea level rise… and installing artificial chillers around rigs and pipelines in the Arctic to combat permafrost thaw.
Instead of paying to adapt to a problem of our own making, we could be solving that problem.
We’ll do that by producing clean energy. And thanks to President Biden, there’s never been a better time to invest in clean energy in America.
Under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Department of Energy has made billions available for demonstration projects in energy technologies many of you are already exploring… from carbon capture to clean hydrogen to industrial decarbonization.
Through the CHIPS and Science Act, the Commerce Department is overseeing $50 billion in investments to the domestic semiconductor industry—a crucial ingredient for batteries, solar, and more.
And the Inflation Reduction Act adds and expands tax credits for clean energy… while making those technologies more affordable for working families to boost demand.
The President’s vision for transforming the economy carries across all three of these landmark pieces of legislation.
Government-enabled. Private sector-led.
We’re putting the dollars, the incentives, and the long-term certainty on the table.
We’re setting the rules of the road to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out—like through the provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act that will make more clean energy jobs good-paying and union jobs.
And then it’s up to all of you to grab the baton and run with it.
So many of you have already gotten in the game by diversifying your portfolio into offshore wind… sustainable aviation fuels… geothermal… clean hydrogen… direct air capture… batteries… EV charging…
The list goes on and on.
Now, you can grow your clean energy investments by taking advantage of these new laws and create good-paying jobs while you’re at it.
Big changes are already taking root.
In just the battery industry alone, companies have announced over $75 billion in investments for new and expanded domestic manufacturing since President Biden took office.
$28 billion of that has been in just the six months since the President signed the Inflation Reduction Act. Clean energy projects planned and breaking ground across America will create tens of thousands of jobs.
It’s all part of President Biden’s vision: A clean energy economy invented and built in America, by American workers.
An economy that will position our nation to lead the future.
So, it’s time to get building.
But there are challenges.
We’ve got to build more reliable supply chains, here in the United States and working with our allies and partners, so we’re not dependent on China to secure our clean energy future.
We’ll need to invest in workforce development to match enough people with the millions of jobs we’ll be creating in clean energy.
And we’ve got to get that clean energy where it’s needed through transmission.
In fact, we need to increase high-voltage, high-performance electric transmission 60% by 2030 to meet growing clean energy demand—which means growing transmission at twice our current pace.
But the permitting process for clean energy infrastructure, including transmission, is plagued by delays and bottlenecks.
To be sure, plenty of delays happen at the state and local level—and those need to be addressed—but there’s plenty that we can and must do federally.
Right now, it’s often easier to permit fossil fuel infrastructure than clean energy infrastructure.
On average, interstate gas pipelines that require environmental impact statements are approved nearly twice as fast as transmission lines requiring the same.
The President knows how big of a challenge this is—which is why we’re taking action to build clean energy projects faster and with more predictability.
Secretary Granholm and I are tracking more than 20 priority electric transmission projects that would bring affordable, reliable, clean energy to American families—and we’re leveraging federal resources to encourage progress.
Among those projects is the Southern Spirit transmission line that, once operational by 2028, will bring Texas wind to Southeastern states and create 650 permanent jobs.
We’re on track to build 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. Onshore, the Bureau of Land Management has permitted more than 130 wind, solar, and geothermal projects on public lands, with about 70 more in the pipeline.
In total, that’s a potential 76 gigawatts of new clean power onshore and offshore—just on our public lands and waters.
And we’ve seen plenty of examples of success…
Like the Gemini Solar Project in Nevada, which completed the environmental review process in under two years and will be the largest solar facility in the U.S.
Or the solar-plus-storage project at the Edwards Air Force Base in California, which completed environmental review in just over two years and is the largest private-public collaboration in Defense Department history.
To help replicate that success, our Council on Environmental Quality has clarified and restored basic safeguards for environmental reviews and released updated guidance on how to account for greenhouse gas emissions and climate—so fewer projects get tangled up in litigation.
The Inflation Reduction Act invests $1 billion in new resources across key federal permitting agencies to increase staff capacity, incorporate new permitting technology, better coordinate across agencies, and site and permit big clean energy projects.
These resources will help get projects done on time and in the right way.
Permitting has never been a top priority of senior Administration officials in the past.
Now, thanks to President Biden, it is.
From the President, to our new Chief of Staff Jeff Zients, to our Secretaries of Energy, Commerce, Interior, and Agriculture, to our EPA Administrator and our CEQ Chair, to FPISC and our Infrastructure Coordinator, Mitch Landrieu—senior leaders across the Biden-Harris Administration know we have to get the job done, and that accelerating permitting is a key way we can do that.
The President has told us to use every tool in the toolbox.
And there’s one that for years has, frankly, been left in the toolbox—but not anymore.
Back in 2005, Congress gave the Department of Energy authorities in the Federal Power Act to accelerate transmission permitting.
Under Section 216(h) of that law, DOE is empowered to coordinate all the federal authorizations, permits, and reviews needed to build transmission projects on public lands… to set firm deadlines… and to give project sponsors a pathway to petition the President for approval of a permit if a milestone is missed.
That part of the Federal Power Act has never been fully exercised.
Because we’ve directed the Departments and agencies with responsibility for permitting activities on federal lands and waters to get together with the White House and finalize a new Memorandum of Understanding—and to put transmission permitting on a fast track.
So, we’re doing what we can with the tools we have.
We can move faster by setting tighter deadlines for agencies to complete environmental reviews.
We can move smarter by making it easier to approve projects with low environmental impact.
And we can move strategically by improving basic information sharing among agencies and quality standards for project approvals… and by listening to local communities early in the process to keep infrastructure projects out of court.
But Congress needs to do its job, too.
I think you all know that the President supported Senator Manchin’s permitting reform bill last Congress.
Unfortunately, Congress didn’t get it done.
So it’s time to get back to work and pass permitting reform legislation. We’ll work again with Senator Manchin and leaders of both parties to pass legislation, but we’ll need your help to get it over the finish line.
We know a pragmatic, bipartisan solution to permitting reform is possible.
But keep in mind as the new Congress determines its course, that this President is never going to sign something that abandons rigorous scientific standards or guts core environmental protections.
Let’s be real about everything we can agree on and what we can get done together at the federal level.
Through every great economic transition, the public and private sectors have always worked together—and this one is no different.
We have the opportunity to get steel in the ground for clean energy projects so much faster in every state in this country.
We have the opportunity to create millions of good-paying jobs and lift communities up.
And we have the opportunity to position America—and American businesses—to lead the industries of the future.
It’s the opportunity of a generation—so let’s seize it, together.