By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Public Lands Project, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee spent Thursday morning learning that their four bills introduced to speed up permitting of renewable energy on public lands in reality would have very little effect on renewable energy development. Indeed, agency witnesses testified that the policies could have the opposite effect — creating more lawsuits and delaying projects.
As became clear during the hearing, the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service already have the authority to do what three of the bills propose — exempt projects with no environmental impact from the environmental review process. The key difference with the bills promoted by Republicans is that they completely exempt wind and geothermal testing facilities from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a law designed to minimize conflict with projects from the start. According to the government witnesses, this could lead to more delays in permitting. Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director Mike Pool explained bluntly that the GOP legislation would create “more lawsuits”:
I believe any action that would shortchange the NEPA process would result in more lawsuits.
Pool further noted in his testimony that the legislation could have “unintended consequences.” Because of this, the wind and solar energy industries did not come out in favor of the three bills that would affect them. While thanking Representative Kristi Noem (R-SD) for her leadership in introducing one of the bills, Chris Taylor, testifying on behalf of Element Power (a solar and wind company) and the American Wind Energy Association, stated that the problems his organization sees with permitting wind testing facilities “can be improved within the confines of NEPA.” In other words, the legislation is not needed.
As ten witnesses testified before the committee in two different oversight hearings a few weeks ago, consistent and reliable financing is the biggest roadblock to renewable energy development on public lands. Taylor of the American Wind Energy Association reiterated that point today, saying: “Far and away the biggest challenge facing the wind industry right now is the lack of stable federal policy support, namely long-term financial incentives and a demand-side policy like a clean or renewable electricity standard…it needs to be clear that any changes that are made to make it easier to site projects on public lands will be of limited use if projects aren’t able to be built because federal tax incentives…or because the lack of demand-side policies limit the market for renewable energy.”
Republicans killed off the best mechanism for long-term policy support for the renewable energy industry when they demonized climate legislation, which would have allowed the market to determine the most efficient mechanism for making desperately needed reductions in carbon pollution. They continue to slash clean energy programs and prop up the oil and coal industries with new pollution subsidies.
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