What's up with Manchin's plan to reform energy permitting?
Earthjustice president Abigail Dillen thinks it's a bad deal.
As part of his price for agreeing to pass the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act, Senator Joe Manchin extracted a promise from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to pass a "sidecar deal” addressing the issue of permitting reform.
It is legendarily difficult to build anything in the US — including renewable energy, of which there is a terawatt or more waiting in interconnection queues. The fossil fuel industry and the renewable energy industry are both frustrated at their inability to build and there is growing sentiment that environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are part of the problem. Consequently, there is at least some bipartisan interest in reforming the process through which new projects are permitted. The question facing climate hawks is whether the specifics of the permitting-reform deal will benefit one industry more than the other.
The deal was negotiated entirely in private between the two senators, and so far the only glimpse of its contents has been a draft of the legislation released a few weeks ago, so the final contents are not yet certain. What is certain is that, because it addresses regulatory reform, it cannot pass through reconciliation. That means it needs 60 votes in the Senate, including 10 Republicans, as well as the bulk of the progressives in the House. It is unclear exactly what kind of deal could please both constituencies, or if any could.
Many environmental groups worry that the deal is currently weighted in favor of fossil fuels, including Earthjustice, which characterizes the deal as a fossil fuel giveaway that will constrain the ability of vulnerable communities to give feedback on projects that threaten them.
I called the president of Earthjustice, Abigail Dillen, to talk through her reservations about the sidecar deal, her larger take on permitting reform, and her thoughts on how to build the renewable energy needed to address climate change.