The upHill battle on permitting reform

February 28, 2023

A TELLING EXCHANGE ON PERMITTING: House Democrats on Tuesday mostly rejected Republicans’ legislative offerings to ease federal permitting reviews, dismissing them as “gutting” the public input process set up under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“I know we have to modernize our laws…but I don’t think these are serious proposals,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who has previously expressed openness to reforms to boost clean energy deployment under NEPA, said at the first of two House Natural Resources Committee hearings focused on a trio of bills to boost energy leasing on federal lands, speed permitting for mining of critical minerals, and overhaul NEPA rules.

In Energy and Commerce, Republicans advanced 16 bills through markup on Tuesday, most focused on boosting domestic production of all forms of energy, particularly oil and gas, drawing the ire of some Democrats.

Other Democrats said they supported aspects of Republicans’ opening proposals, but felt squeezed by some of the more partisan positions. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas), who voted to advance one of the Republican E&C bills, said she broadly supported GOP efforts to reform permitting “for all forms of energy infrastructure,” but had concerns about certain provisions, such as the geopolitical implications of easing permitting for international pipelines.

Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.), a former environmental attorney representing a swing district, picked out “elements” of the NEPA reform bill — led by Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) — that he said “could be beneficial” to ensure “timely reviews” of clean energy projects.

Levin, Graves and Rep. Jared Huffman, a progressive Californian vehemently opposed to NEPA changes, walked out of the hearing room together, where our Josh Siegel observed an exchange that captured the complex politics involved in trying to forge a deal.

Levin told Josh the chances of a compromise on NEPA reforms are a “good solid maybe.” Huffman, however, interjected to say GOP lawmakers really “want to emasculate this law,” and vowed to oppose “dramatic changes to how people engage in the NEPA process and what they can do to protect their communities.”

Graves, overhearing the commentary, wrapped his arms around Levin and Huffman, joked that they should “co-sponsor” his bill and said Biden administration officials endorsed the need for permitting changes when he met with them on the sidelines of the U.N. climate conference last year.

“All I am saying is I am asking you all to go along with Brian Deese and John Kerry,” Graves said.

Huffman responded by (half-jokingly) demanding a transcript of Graves’ meeting with the former director of the National Economic Council and the president's top climate diplomat. He also poked fun at Graves for presenting an updated version of a NEPA bill he first introduced in 2021 rather than starting from scratch.


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By:  James Bikales
Source: Politico Pro