Diverse Coalition of Groups Backs Infrastructure Permitting Reforms

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
March 27, 2023Politics
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Diverse Coalition of Groups Backs Infrastructure Permitting Reforms
A construction worker helps build the “Signature Bridge,” replacing and improving a busy highway intersection at I-95 and I-395 in Miami, Fla., on March 17, 2021. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A diverse coalition of American organizations has signed a letter organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—the leading business lobbying organization in the United States—urging reforms to the infrastructure permitting process.

“Today, the single biggest obstacle to building the infrastructure of the future is a broken permitting system,” reads the letter, which was published on Monday. “That is why the undersigned list of diverse groups across the country and economy is calling on Congress to Permit America to Build by enacting meaningful, durable legislation to modernize America’s permitting processes before the end of the summer.”

The letter touts potential benefits from a streamlined permitting process, such as more reliable energy production with reduced emissions; the ability to move people and goods more efficiently with improved highways, bridges, and transit systems; and the opportunity to strengthen U.S. national security by expanding the domestic sourcing of raw materials to build critical technologies.

“But America cannot accomplish any of this if the outdated, inefficient, and unpredictable permitting process is not improved,” the letter continues.

The coalition calls on lawmakers in Congress to take action by the end of the summer to begin reforming the infrastructure permitting process.

Fossil Fuel and Clean Energy Organizations Back Reforms

The letter was signed by several organizations involved in the fossil fuel industry, such as the American Coke and Coal Chemicals Institute, American Petroleum Institute, American Public Gas Association, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, among others. The letter was also signed by organizations promoting clean energy solutions, such as the Solar Energy Industries Association, the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and the American Clean Power Association.

The letter’s signatories also appear to cross party affiliations. The letter was signed by the left-leaning Progressive Policy Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, a politically conservative environmental conservation advocacy group called ConservAmerica, and the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“We are pleased to see support for modernizing our permitting process from across the ideological spectrum, and a recognition that the current system is broken,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Coalition letter reads. “We know there are differing perspectives in Congress on how best to address current challenges. Our organizations will not agree on every issue. We are committed, however, to working with Congress to find solutions and pass meaningful and durable legislation.”

Among the areas of common ground for the signatories are establishing a greater degree of predictability around infrastructure project reviews, more transparency in permitting milestones, and greater efforts to inform and take input from stakeholders on new infrastructure projects.

The Permitting Reform Debate in Congress

While the Chamber of Commerce coalition letter touted its bipartisan and diverse industry appeal, lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle have opposed permitting reforms.

On Sept. 12, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) introduced the Simplify Timelines and Assure Regulatory Transparency (START) Act, with the stated goal to “provide regulatory certainty to states, expedite permitting and review processes, codify substantive environmental regulatory reforms, and expedite permitting of the critically important Mountain Valley Pipeline.” Capito’s legislation garnered the support of 46 Republican co-sponsors but stalled out, never going before a committee or receiving a vote after its Senate introduction.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) also proposed adding permitting reform language to a Continuing Resolution Congress passed in October. Manchin said his proposed language garnered the support of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Democratic President Joe Biden, but faced opposition from “far-left Senators” like Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Senate Republicans.

Manchin attempted to add similar permitting reform language as an amendment to the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but the effort failed in a 47-47 vote—falling short of the 60 votes needed to pass. Manchin’s revised permitting reform language included multiple adjustments to address items Republicans did not support in Manchin’s September permitting reform effort.

Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) voted for Manchin’s bill language. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) voted against the measure, as did Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) also tweeted in opposition to Manchin’s proposed permitting reform, calling it a “#DirtyDeal.”

“This would gut bedrock environmental regulations and fast track fossil fuel projects. I refuse to allow our residents in frontline communities to continue to be sacrificed for the fossil fuel industry’s endless greed,” Tlaib tweeted.

Despite the earlier setbacks to their respective permitting reform efforts, Manchin and Capito joined together on a new bipartisan bill to address permitting issues.

NTD News reached out to Capito and Manchin’s offices for comment on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s coalition letter supporting permitting reform efforts. Neither office responded before this article was published.

NTD News also contacted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but the organization did not immediately respond.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently endorsed the Lower Energy Costs Act, which was proposed by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.). Scalise has said the bill aims to increase domestic energy production and reform the permitting process “for all industries.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Scalise’s bill “would advance important policies to improve the permitting process, ensure strong domestic energy production, protect energy exports and increase production and processing of our own critical minerals.”

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