August 9, 2023
Evan H. Jenkins
Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Large improvement projects and infrastructure investments are imperative to moving the nation’s economy forward. These projects span from highway and bridge improvement to safe drinking water and expanded broadband access. However, none of these improvements can be made without the permitting system — which, in its antiquated state, tends to delay projects for extended periods.
As part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Common Grounds initiative, Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA-50) and Rep. John Curtis (R-UT-3) sat down for a chat with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, Evan Jenkins. Each Common Grounds event convenes one Republican leader and one Democratic leader over a cup of coffee to explore important issues or challenges facing the business community and the nation.
In this edition of Common Grounds, Peters and Curtis discussed the necessity of reforming the permitting system and the benefits that doing this can have on the nation’s progress.
Projects Across the Country Have Been Hindered by Permitting Challenges
Nationwide, the country has dealt with the impact of an outdated permitting system, facing delays and blockages that in some cases span almost a decade. In Rep. Curtis’s case, bringing broadband to his area was met with exorbitant delays, despite 80% of his represented geography being federal land.
“Imagine something as simple as [trying to establish] broadband in an existing right-of-way roadway … taking almost a decade,” Rep. Curtis said. “You begin to see why we're holding up projects — large and small, broadband, energy. All across the board, [projects] are being held up because of permitting reform.”
In California, Rep. Peters has dealt with similar challenges that impact the state’s progress — and these matters are only getting worse as the country faces increasingly drastic weather emergencies.
“Last year, Texas and California both had famous brownouts and energy crises in moments of extreme weather — and that's a concern throughout California,” Rep. Peters said.
The Existing Timeline for Improving the Country’s Grid Is Insufficient
As it currently stands, the nation’s electric grid will not be sufficient in supporting future investments. And, according to Rep. Peters, the current timeline for improving the grid is moving at too slow of a pace to meet the country’s expected energy demands in the coming decades.
“To meet this transition challenge and to support the investments that we could make out of the IRA, we need to triple the size of the grid in about 30 years,” he said. “That's 200,000 miles of line every year, and we've been building them at a rate of 1,800 a year, or 18,000 over 10 years. So, we have a big leap to make.”
As Rep. Peters notes, the biggest factor causing delays in the grid expansion ties back to the permitting process.
“The problem is that the average line is taking 10 years to build, but seven years of that is process,” he explained.
Moving the County Forward Requires Broad Support
In seeking the best solution to streamline the permitting process, Rep. Curtis believes that the answer lies in overcoming bureaucratic hurdles to find common ground.
“This can't be business as usual; business as usual takes too long,” he explained. “I would love to see a warp-speed permitting reform developed. And I think we could find some common ground about not even changing any rules, but just moving things through quicker… To the extent that Republicans can be realistic [and] Democrats can be realistic, there is a lot of common ground ahead for us.”
Feeding off of this, Rep. Peters sees the value in gaining broad support from both sides to move the country — and its permitting system — forward.
“This is the unusual case where you have got to make the problem bigger,” he said. “There's so many different people who want permit reform for a particular purpose, it almost seems like a bill that takes care of everyone has got the best chance of passing. … We have to be open to really trying to put something together that gets broad support because we've dealt with the issue in a really broad way.”
Ultimately, the two agree that the delays are squandering opportunities for growth and wasting resources, and nothing will change without first tackling the permitting roadblocks.
“We're not going to reach any of our energy goals, climate goals, [or] environmental goals if we can't overcome the permitting issues that we have here in our country,” Rep. Curtis said.
Learn more about the U.S. Chamber's advocacy for permitting reform through our Permit America to Build campaign.
From the Series