Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Senior Advisor John Podesta on the Biden-Harris Administration’s Priorities for Energy Infrastructure Permitting Reform
Bipartisan Policy Center
Thanks so much, Sasha—and a big thanks to Bipartisan Policy Center for hosting us. For more than 15 years, this organization has shown America that politics doesn’t have to be broken—that we can confront challenges on a bipartisan basis.
When President Biden entered office over two years ago, our nation faced multiple challenges at once.
A health crisis in the form of a once-in-a-century pandemic…an economy in crisis, with millions out of work and small businesses shuttered…a climate in crisis, with escalating hurricanes and wildfires devastating American communities.
All that, on top of decades of underinvestment in our infrastructure and industrial base…and decades of policies that attempted—unsuccessfully—to grow the economy from the top down.
President Biden said: enough. It’s time to build the economy from the bottom up and the middle out through a modern American industrial strategy…one that invests in America’s workers and positions them to lead the future…onshores critical supply chains to reduce our reliance on China…and one that puts underserved communities at the front of the line for new opportunities.
That modern industrial strategy is now coming to life thanks to the President’s Investing in America agenda…and at the heart of it is clean energy.
Clean energy creates good-paying jobs and fuels economic growth…expands our production base…bolsters our energy security by bringing supply chains home…and confronts the climate crisis by cutting harmful pollution.
And thanks to all three bills working together—the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, CHIPS, and the IRA—we’ve sent a powerful signal to the private sector. They’ve already responded with over $220 billion in new clean energy announcements since President Biden took office.
As a result, we expect clean energy deployment over the next four years to be 25% higher than it would have been without the IRA.
We’re proud of what our administration has accomplished so far to change our trajectory on clean energy and climate. But now, we need to up the pace and finish the job by lowering the remaining hurdles to achieve 100% clean power by 2035.
One big hurdle—and a big opportunity—is permitting. Right now, the permitting process for clean energy infrastructure, including transmission, is plagued by delays and bottlenecks.
These delays are pervasive at every level of government—federal, state, and local. We got so good at stopping projects that we forgot how to build things in America.
It’s been this way for a long time. Last fall, I came back to the White House. And in my first week on the job, in my first meeting with the Secretary of Energy, I found out that permits for a transmission line I thought had been resolved in the Obama administration still hadn’t been approved.
That’s unacceptable. And given that we have to increase electric transmission 60% over the next seven years—which means building transmission lines at twice our current pace—we have to fix this problem now.
Most Americans agree—81% of voters support the development of new transmission lines, and a majority say that permitting reform should prioritize clean energy projects over fossil fuels.
That’s why President Biden has elevated this issue to the highest levels of government for the first time by forming an Investing in America Cabinet that meets regularly on permitting and other priority issues for infrastructure implementation.
It’s why the Inflation Reduction Act, invests $1 billion in key federal permitting agencies to increase staff capacity, incorporate new technology, improve coordination, and site and permit big clean energy projects.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests billions in transmission deployment.
Our Council on Environmental Quality has clarified and restored basic safeguards for environmental reviews. And we’re getting those reviews done faster than the previous Administration ever did. We’ll soon be proposing additional reforms to make the environmental review process more efficient and effective.
We’ve also released updated guidance on how to account for greenhouse gas emissions and climate—so fewer projects get tangled up in litigation and so they’re permitted right and built right the first time.
Just yesterday, DOE kicked off the process of designating National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors by releasing a Notice of Intent. This process unlocks DOE and FERC tools to accelerate the deployment of high-capacity transmission so we can provide clean, affordable, reliable electricity to more Americans.
And today, I’m excited to announce that seven agencies, the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council and the White House have signed a new Memorandum of Understanding to put electric transmission permitting on a fast track—allowing DOE to exercise its full authority under Section 216(h) of the Federal Power Act to shepherd projects forward.
We’ve seen some recent wins—like the final approval of the TransWest transmission line that will send Wyoming wind energy to California.
And this administration is doing all we can with the tools we have—but frankly, we could use more tools to go even further and faster.
And we need Congress to give us those new tools.
The President has been clear over the past six months that we believe permitting reform should pass on a bipartisan basis—and that we believe permitting needs to be optimized for building out a clean energy economy.
President Biden is grateful for Senator Manchin’s leadership and commitment to this issue in particular. The President supported Senator Manchin’s permitting legislation in December, and he continues to support the same bill the Senator re-introduced last week.
Congress should treat that bill—and particularly the deadlines it imposes for environmental reviews—to start serious bipartisan negotiations in the Senate to eliminate roadblocks to clean energy projects and bolster our energy security. The President doesn’t love everything in the bill, but we support it. That’s what compromise means, and it will take compromise by everybody to get this done.
The Biden-Harris administration has worked hard to better understand these roadblocks, and now we’re asking Congress to build on Senator Manchin’s legislation with additional reforms.
That’s why today, the White House is releasing a list of eleven priorities that Congress should include in permitting legislation. You can read all eleven in a fact sheet that’s now live on the White House website, but I’ll share some highlights.
We’ve got to get more clean energy capacity connected to the grid by speeding up interconnection. Legislation needs to expedite the connection of generation or storage that impacts more than one transmission system—and it needs to allow clean energy project developers to pay the cost of interconnection upfront.
Then, we’ve got to get that clean energy where it’s needed by accelerating the deployment of transmission and making permitting more efficient and predictable for interstate transmission projects. A key part of this is allowing projects to allocate project costs to customers that benefit from the new transmission.
Congress should give FERC clear authority to issue permits for interstate transmission lines…and to include carbon dioxide and hydrogen infrastructure in designated energy corridors.
And we need to make sure that during extreme weather events, regional grids can borrow energy from other power systems to help keep the lights and heat on for American families. To do that, Congress should direct FERC to set a minimum level of transfer capability between regional grids—and should require the consideration of multiple benefits, including economic, operational, and environmental, when making transmission decisions.
Congress should cut duplicative and burdensome reviews. Often, environmental reviews and permitting processes need to be done sequentially, which can cause unnecessary delay. Congress should address areas of overlap, including by allowing transmission projects to rely on analysis included in corridor-wide programmatic environmental reviews.
Federal agencies need to engage local communities early and often—a crucial ingredient to increase public buy-in for clean energy projects and build in the locations that make the most sense and avoid lengthy litigation delays.
That support means installing Chief Community Engagement Officers at each permitting agency…establishing new funds that agencies can use to provide grants to local governments and groups…and allowing agencies to transfer funds to tribal nations to increase their permitting capacity.
We need to modernize our data collection and permitting technology, from mapping tools to an automated permitting application system. This will help ease the burden for project developers and increase transparency so the public can track our progress.
We need specific 2030 and 2035 goals for renewable energy deployment on public lands. And Congress needs to help site clean energy projects on brownfields by protecting developers from liability as long as they address contamination onsite.
On a similar note, Congress should make clear that agencies have authority to require project developers to mitigate environmental impacts, and those efforts satisfy environmental review requirements.
We’ve got to fix the cost and delays that are bogging down the licensing process for hydropower projects. Hydro supplies 37 percent of zero-carbon power in the United States—and more than thirty percent of all the nonfederal hydropower licenses in the United States are set to expire by 2030. It’s time to reform the process so we can keep this crucial energy source online.
And it’s long past time to update our ancient mining laws, which were written in 1872. The Administration will make more specific recommendations on this soon—but suffice it to say that even though the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant are still on recommended reading lists, mining legislation he signed more than 150 years ago is a little out of date.
This administration is serious about building a secure energy future that strengthens America’s economy. If Congress is ready to do the same…
They’ll pass bipartisan permitting reform that includes the White House’s priorities.
And they’ll help us implement and expand on President Biden’s Investing in America agenda instead of trying to undo some of its most impactful provisions.
Through their Default on America Act, House Republicans have voted to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act’s clean energy tax credits. If they have their way, they’ll send tens of thousands of new manufacturing jobs overseas, many from their own districts.
They’ll increase energy costs and increase taxes on hard-working families who were expecting to get a credit or a rebate for installing a heat pump or rooftop solar.
And by repealing the Foreign Entities of Concern requirements for the IRA’s clean vehicle tax credit, they’ll make sure that the EVs of the future are powered by Chinese batteries and critical minerals, instead of being made here in America.
Simply put, the House Republican plan would be catastrophic for our economy, our energy security, and our national security. They’re proposing to endanger the health of Americans and undo our clean energy progress as a ransom for not triggering a catastrophic default.
Right now, we’re in the midst of a climate crisis—one that demands that we build, build, build clean energy. We can do it in a way that protects ecosystems and communities… creates good-paying jobs…makes our nation more competitive…and saves our planet.
Here’s the bottom line: If we can’t build some new things in a few backyards, the climate crisis will destroy everyone’s backyards—along with the livelihoods, communities, wildlife, and biodiversity we all want to protect.
I might not be popular among my friends in the environmental movement for saying that—but it’s the reality.
“The general tactic used by the opponents of projects—delay it until it goes away—is in effect a form of climate denial.” Those aren’t my words—it’s what Bill McKibben, one of our nation’s leading environmentalists, wrote in Mother Jones last month.
He then said, “When you’re in an emergency, acting at least gives you a chance—not acting guarantees an outcome, and not a good one.”
It’s time that we confront crisis with pragmatism. To go from stopping things to building things again. And with pragmatic, bipartisan action from Congress, we’ll build a secure, resilient, affordable, clean energy future—together.
Thank you and I look forward to the discussion.