Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) recently stated that he plans to re-introduce legislation that would reform the United States’ permitting process, which is particularly relevant given our need for new infrastructure – specifically, energy infrastructure.

While there has historically been bipartisan support for permitting reform, a similar legislative push last year failed. A House energy bill passed in March to address the regulatory purview of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) isn’t expected to pass the Senate.

The crux of the matter comes down, at least in part, to one core issue: the types of energy infrastructure projects that stand to benefit.

And while that may be a bit maddening, it underscores how important energy infrastructure is across the full energy spectrum, from traditional energy sources like fossil fuels to renewable energy sources like wind and solar. All of them require infrastructure development for production, transport, and storage in order to be fundamentally usable, much less accessible, affordable, and reliable.

In the context of a clean energy transition – or, put another way, if we are serious about reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – then we need to address the fact that new energy infrastructure is a necessity.

That means projects like high-voltage interstate power lines that facilitate the adoption of wind and solar energy. That also means chemical manufacturing facilities, which produce essential inputs for technologies like electric vehicles (EVs), advanced batteries, and semiconductors. And yes, it means, natural gas infrastructure, which enhances the reliability of our power grid as renewables grow, and some of which may be retrofitted for lower-carbon energy sources.

Also included in that list, of course, are carbon pipelines, which facilitate the transport of captured carbon for permanent sequestration or re-use. Expanding the use of carbon capture is a stated goal of the Biden Administration and, according to the international environmental community, critical to decarbonizing on a scale that will slow the impact of climate change.

So, what’s the problem? Unfortunately, here in the U.S., our permitting process is fundamentally flawed and too many infrastructure projects end up cancelled because it takes so long to receive approval – or even an answer – from the regulating bodies in charge of oversight that the projects become too expensive to build. That’s unacceptable.

As Ed Crooks wrote for Wood Mackenzie:

“The US used to be able to build large infrastructure projects quickly. The Hoover Dam, the largest concrete structure in the world at that time, was built in just five years, 1931-36. The 1,776-mile Transcontinental Railroad took nine, from the route being chosen in 1860 to the last spike being driven home at Promontory Summit in Utah in 1869. At peak, the crews of the Central Pacific Railroad were laying 10 miles of track a day.

“In the 21st century, attempts to build new infrastructure in the US have to contend with a new set of regulatory and legal challenges that those earlier projects never faced. Environmental approvals, property risks and litigation can hold up projects for many years, or even block them altogether.”

Now, no one is advocating we avoid environmental oversight. Far from it. New infrastructure projects should absolutely be fairly evaluated on the basis of their environmental impact – for the health and safety of all of us. It’s also vital that there’s public trust in both the companies operating energy projects and the government agencies overseeing them.

That same mentality needs to apply to our permitting process. Transparency, responsiveness, and straightforward, efficient, and consistent guidelines are critical to building the infrastructure that allows our economy to grow. Each of these projects symbolizes an investment in the public interest – whether that’s modern highways, accessible and safe drinking water, or cleaner energy and power.

Or, as Alex Hergott, president and CEO of The Permitting Institute, once told the Washington Post, the goal of permitting reform is to “give predictability and transparency to project sponsors that oftentimes have to navigate this bureaucratic maze without anyone really shepherding the process with a definitive timeline.”

To put the flaws in our permitting process in perspective, a study from Rysted Energy found that 10 major infrastructure projects, representing more than $34 billion in private spending, were canceled or risked cancellation due to bureaucratic slowness and regulatory inefficiency.

The American Action Forum found that $157 billion in energy investment was specifically trapped in the NEPA approval process.

So, reforming our permitting process is necessary. And many of the solutions proposed last year, such as ensuring environmental review was conducted within two years, were common sense. The benefits signify the injection of tens of billions of dollars into our economy, job creation, and the ability to deliver on the creation of a low-carbon economy.

To learn more about carbon capture’s own unique history of bipartisan support, check out this blog post.