Senior Vice President, Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
President, Global Energy Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
April 05, 2023
It takes too long to build things in America. Projects to address critical needs for transportation, energy, water, broadband, and other priorities find themselves mired in regulatory and legal delays caused by an antiquated permitting process, threatening our economy and diminishing our global competitiveness.
The good news is that Congress has made unprecedented investments in recent years to incentivize new and resilient infrastructure, with new opportunities available through more than $1 trillion in grants and loans.
Those opportunities, however, cannot be fully realized without an effective modernization of our arcane and outdated federal permitting process. How outdated? The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which governs the environmental review process, was signed into law January 1, 1970 and has seen only minor updates since. A lot has changed in 53 years.
Unfortunately, since 1970 our federal permitting process has only gotten worse, adding complexity and bureaucratic red tape and empowering project opponents of all kinds to delay action through the courts. According to government data, it now takes an average of 4.5 years for a project to obtain a federal permit. For roads or bridges, the story is even worse—those projects take an average of 7.4 years. Public transit? 5.3 years. Even projects to connect renewable energy to the grid by building electricity transmission infrastructure are subject to delays, with some projects taking a decade or more.
We can and must conduct environmental reviews and provide for meaningful community input, but it shouldn’t take longer to get a decision about a permit than it does to actually construct a project, and that’s routinely the case in America. To meet our growing challenges—like updating crumbling roads and bridges, addressing water quality, expanding broadband access, combatting climate change, and strengthening our energy security—the permitting process simply must be improved.
That’s why nearly 350 organizations from across the economy and around the country are urging Congress to Permit America to Build. Our goal is simple: to spur action on permitting reform in Congress by the end of the summer. The organizations joining this effort won’t agree on every detail, but we all agree on four critical principles:
- Predictability: Project developers and financers must have an appropriate level of certainty regarding the scope and timeline for project reviews, including any related judicial review.
- Efficiency: Interagency coordination must be improved to optimize public and private resources while driving better environmental and community outcomes.
- Transparency: Project sponsors and the public must have visibility into the project permitting milestones and schedule through an easily accessible public means.
- Stakeholder Input: All relevant stakeholders must be adequately informed and have the opportunity to provide input within a reasonable and consistent timeframe.
With needs and opportunities this great, we can’t afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Providing greater certainty in the permitting process could unleash private sector investment to build the infrastructure, and the economy, of the future.
It's time to Permit America to Build.
About the authors
Martin (Marty) Durbin is president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute (GEI). Durbin leads GEI’s efforts to build support for meaningful energy action through policy development, education, and advocacy, making it a go-to voice for commonsense energy solutions.