Reducing carbon emissions in the US to pure zero is achievable. It is economically sustainable, environmentally necessary, technologically feasible and, with some work, even politically viable. But to have a good chance of reaching clean zero, we need to change the way we regulate the construction of clean energy projects.
We have all the building blocks: a significant expansion clean energy research and development in 2005 a number of politicians on energy efficiency and alternative fuels in 2007, over the past 20 years, widespread increases in budgets for technological innovation and unforeseen “all of the above” electricity bill which became part of the total federal appropriations in 2020. In November 2021, the United States adopted a bipartisan infrastructure bill which included more than $ 30 billion in important funding to build new clean energy projects. The private sector has responded to these initiatives with advances in emission reduction technologies such as advanced nuclear, carbon capture for fossil energy and long-term storage of energy in the grid.
Now there is something to build. Analyzes The transition to a clean energy economy, from Princeton University’s Net-Zero America project, shows that it requires tens of thousands of miles of new pipelines carrying hydrogen and other clean fuels, as well as captured carbon dioxide from power plants and industrial facilities. We also need a large number of new and expanded electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure to transport this type of energy across an increasingly electrified country, as well as thousands of new renewable energy plants, both large and small. All this will underlie the modernization of our transport, industrial, agricultural and utility infrastructure in the field of clean energy. It will be the largest and most exciting mainland construction project in U.S. history. Think more than President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who is building a federal road system.
But there is a huge hurdle. Each of these clean infrastructure projects will need permits – often dozens of them – at the federal, state and local levels. Given our common climate goals, the federal government should work with project developers at all levels over project approval, not against them. But instead we have continuous delays, uncertainty and excessive costs in our current federal environmental expertise and permitting system.
Obtaining permits and passing regulatory expertise for all projects needed to achieve the zero-value goal by 2050 will be a nightmare of red tape. Some of the largest and most transformational projects now take five, 10 or even 15 years to allow. Countless others will find themselves in second place due to rising costs and uncertainty from delays. If recent legal and political issues with clean energy projects are some sign of the future, finding a place will be virtually impossible. Last year Fr. transfer project was rejected by Maine residents who would have delivered 1,200 megawatts of hydropower from Canada. A lawsuit is used to attack offshore wind development, including Vineyard Wind, the first major offshore wind farm to be approved in the U.S., citing concerns about the impact of fisheries, endangered species and property values. If we really want to build better, we need to be able to to build.
We must set ourselves a big, bold goal – to modernize regulations and build projects in less than two years. My organization was part of a working group that developed recommendations published Aspen Institute in the spring of 2021. These clear paths to success include the following three policy reforms:
Fast project tracking with minimal impact. Provide immediate approval for categories of decarbonisation projects in which the environmental impact is well known to be minimal, given the nature of the project or its location. One example is a solar project that is proposed to be built on the site of a former coal-fired power plant. Congress must establish approval criteria that allow this type of project to be formalized without delay.
A quick overview of basic remedies. For decarbonisation projects that may cause unique or significant adverse local environmental impacts, the environmental review process should focus on understanding local conditions and necessary protection measures, while allowing the project to accelerate. The US has one of the strictest regulatory conditions in the world, and the accelerated deadline will still require compliance with basic and existing environmental protection and regulatory measures.
Limit litigation to one year. An accelerated legal examination should be conducted after the project is approved. Any further litigation on decarbonisation projects should include a final decision of less than a year to ensure that lengthy litigation does not undermine the viability of the project.
By introducing these changes into federal policy, we must also encourage state and local legislation that is consistent with these new federal processes. Eligibility for any federal infrastructure or climate-related funding, tax breaks, or grants should require the state or community to implement a relatively simplified structure and timeframe for rapid project approval and decision-making.
Here’s the good news: we can build cleaner and faster while maintaining first-class environmental standards. It can be done. In fact, this construction needs to be done to meet this moment and face the climate crisis – and get clean electricity into the grid.
Three fixes for cleaner and faster creation of energy projects
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