Bloomberg Opinion's Liam Denning Sees Climate Win in Proposed Permitting Reform


Bloomberg Opinion’s Liam Denning says climate advocates shouldn’t be so quick to oppose legislation by US Senator Joe Manchin that streamlines permitting, even if fossil-fuel projects benefit. VX News shares this Op-ed Published originally by Bloomberg Opinion, with permission. Find the piece, here.

Like climate change itself, getting stuff built in the US tends to follow a geological timescale. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s new permitting bill aimed at accelerating energy projects is, like the Inflation Reduction Act that teed it up, a compromise between green and fossil-fuel priorities. Environmentalists shouldn’t be quick to dismiss it, though.

The big win for climate advocates would be enhanced powers for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve critical transmission projects, side-stepping state reviews that often stymie them. Transmission is the literal missing link for decarbonization. All pathways to that rely on electrifying much more of everything, and doing so efficiently means connecting the best zero-emissions resources, such as the Midwest’s gusty plains, with distant cities. Princeton’s Net-Zero America Project envisages high-voltage transmission capacity tripling by 2050 in its high-electrification scenario. Notably, the American Clean Power Association gave Manchin’s bill the thumbs up.

Getting this, however, means streamlining permitting for fossil-fuel infrastructure projects, too, and reserving spots for them in a proposed list of 25 priority energy projects. It also means essentially end-running judicial objections to a long-delayed gas pipeline in Manchin’s home state.

Fellow Democrats objecting should bear in mind three things. First, as the IRA showed, Manchin’s support is critical, and that means inevitable trade-offs, especially ahead of fast-approaching midterms. Second, as the IRA’s “inflation” rebranding showed, high prices for today’s energy risk derailing political support for tomorrow’s, so permitting reform also must address that problem.

Third, and most importantly, the IRA’s biggest win is renewed momentum pushing private capital toward clean technologies. Cutting the cost of those technologies further, thereby attracting more capital in a self-reinforcing cycle, is the prize. The inherent efficiencies of dense transmission networks, enabling optimal siting of renewable generation, would enhance this.

In doing so, this could ultimately counter those parts of the bill environmentalists dislike. The most effective way for clean energy to supplant fossil fuels is to outcompete them. All the permits in the world won’t help a new oil or gas project if financiers eventually decide there’s more money to be made elsewhere.