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Why permitting reform is such a big deal in Washington right now

Changes to the permit process could be included in a debt limit deal. Here's how that could impact you.
Why permitting reform is such a big deal in Washington right now
Posted at 3:19 PM, May 22, 2023

The country is inching closer to a potential default, impacting everything from Social Security checks to the markets. 

While lawmakers are continuing to meet in the hopes of striking a deal soon, one part of a possible deal includes permitting reform. 

While that issue may sound like something you wouldn't normally care about, it impacts everything from your commute to your internet connection.

SEE MORE: The US is reaching its debt limit. Here's what you need to know

Why it matters

"It takes something much longer to build something here in America than in Europe or Asia," said Neil Bradley, the chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "It matters if you want to build anything in America."

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, it takes around 7.5 years on average to get a federal permit. 

Bradley says the push to build more in the U.S. — whether it's a bridge, a pipeline or a wind turbine — has for years taken too long. He pointed to a planned renovation of Union Station in Washington, D.C., as an example. 

"They started the permitting process on that in 2015 and they think they are another three years away from getting final approval," Bradley said. 

If you are wondering why it takes so long, Bradley says it has to do with the number of federal agencies typically involved in permit approval. 

A federal permit may require you to go to the EPA for an environmental review. 

You may have to go to the Department of Transportation if it involves travel or commuting. If your land is protected, you might have to go to the Department of Interior, or the Department of Agriculture if it involves farming. All agencies usually have different timelines and actual employees capable of signing off.

"Then, someone can sue and say, 'I don't think all the federal agencies looked at all the right things,'" Bradley said. 

Debt limit negotiations

Permitting reform is one area of agreement between President Biden and congressional Republicans that could make its way into a deal to avert a default.

Some Democrats want it to build renewable energy projects faster. Many conservatives want traditional oil and gas-related projects sped up.

Details on possible changes have not yet been released. 

SEE MORE: What will happen to Social Security if government defaults on debt?

Concerns

Of course, changing the permitting process in our country has been controversial for years. Some environmentalists are concerned about unintended consequences. 

"The purpose of those laws is to make sure that we look before we leap," Lisa Frank, a director with Environment America, said. 

She believes any change should not come up at the expense of the environment. 

Frank worries speeding up permitting could lead to more traditional energy projects being built as opposed to renewable ones. 

She also fears irreversible mistakes could be made impacting wildlife and habitats. 

"Typically, when we build those projects, those impacts are locked in," Frank said. 


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