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Warren and Sanders oppose Manchin’s plan to accelerate green energy projects

In July, a group of progressive senators sent a letter to President Joe Biden calling for an immediate declaration of climate change as a national emergency.

“Declaring the climate crisis a national emergency … would free up authority to rebuild a better economy with significant, concrete action,” the senators wrote. “The climate crisis is one of the greatest emergencies our country has ever faced, and time is running out.”

The letter was signed by nine senators, including Cory Booker (D-NJ), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massas.).

“We cannot allow one senator to stop our progress,” they wrote — a not-so-veiled reference to their colleague, Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.), who progressives have wrongly condemned for single-handedly blocking bills that the Senate majority actually opposes.

Now there is a bill in the Senate that would take concrete steps to speed up the implementation of green energy projects aimed at combating carbon dioxide emissions blamed for climate change. Manchin sponsored the bill — and you can probably guess where Booker, Markey, Sanders and Warren line up.

The licensing reform proposal that Manchin is trying to attach to the upcoming mandatory government finance bill is a sprawling piece of legislation that aims to accomplish many things. But perhaps the most important part of the proposal is a set of deadlines created to prevent the often long delays that beset large infrastructure projects — including green energy projects. The bill would set a two-year limit on National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews, require permits to be issued within 180 days of the completion of a NEPA review, and impose a 150-day statute of limitations on lawsuits challenging them. projects.

Like Reason’s Christian Britschgi has clarified, the NEPA review process was created in 1970 to ensure that the environmental impacts of infrastructure projects such as power plants and highways are considered. That’s important, but the process takes far too long: The average NEPA review now takes more than four years. Not surprisingly, the complex bureaucratic process has become a tool for anti-growth and NIMBY activists — who also love to file time-consuming lawsuits to challenge new construction — while driving up the cost of infrastructure projects.

Therefore, Manchin’s proposal can be considered like a pitch clock for big construction projects.

If you think of climate change as an existential crisis, these changes should be good news. Ultimately, the key to reducing America’s reliance on carbon-intensive energy sources is to get more green energy projects of all kinds online quickly. Government permitting systems are the single biggest stumbling block to doing that—currently, the U.S. has offshore wind projects capable of producing 42 megawatts (MW) of electricity, while 18,581 MW of potential offshore wind power is tied up in permit battles. to the information of the Ministry of Energy. Construction of a massive offshore wind farm in Massachusetts has been delayed for years due to NEPA reviews.

So where are Booker, Markey, Sanders and Warren? On Thursday, they were four of the eight senators who signed on letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–NY) resist Machin’s proposal on the grounds that it would speed up these licensing decisions.

“Changes to the permitting process should strengthen — not vaporize — public participation,” the senators wrote.

It is, of course, the opposite of a real emergency. While they don’t admit as much in the letter, “strengthening” public participation in the permitting process would mean more red tape, more meetings, slower approvals and fewer new projects.

This is what it looks like in practice. A recent Princeton study found this 80 percent of possible emission reductions of the projects financed by the Inflation Reduction Act would be lost without the expansion of power lines. In short, you need more electricity infrastructure to connect renewable energy plants to parts of the country where coal and gas plants operate. Building these power lines requires cutting down trees, crossing wetlands, and possibly disturbing spotted salamander habitats.

But if climate change is an emergency, can salamanders be expected to give in?

Unfortunately, Congress is not like this. In addition to the eight senators who signed the letter to Schumer, more than 70 House Democrats sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) opposing Manchin’s proposal because it “attempts to short-circuit or undermine.” [NEPA] in the name of “reform.”

You can believe that it is vital to build green energy infrastructure as quickly as possible to combat climate change, or you can believe that waiting four years for an environmental assessment is necessary. Legislators who try to have it both ways achieve nothing.

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