Senate committee hears testimony on speeding up permitting reform, judicial reforms

Published on July 28, 2023 by Dave Kovaleski

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At a hearing held this week by the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, lawmakers and witnesses examined opportunities for Congress to reform the process for permitting electric transmission lines, pipelines, and energy production on federal lands.

Committee chair Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) discussed the need to address issues that are slowing or blocking critical energy infrastructure projects and how streamlining the judicial review process could help accelerate energy projects.

“One critical element which wasn’t included in the debt deal that would benefit all types of energy projects — from pipelines to offshore wind to mining — are judicial reforms. There are three stages of the litigation process that we should look at streamlining—the filing, the case, and the remedy,” Manchin said at the hearing.

Several witnesses who testified agreed with Manchin that judicial reforms are needed. Among the witnesses who agreed with Manchin was Antonio Smyth, executive vice president, grid solutions and government affairs at American Electric Power. Jason Stanek, the former chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission, and Chad Teply, senior vice president – transmission and Gulf of Mexico at Williams, also testified.

Manchin also questioned witnesses about consolidated federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews for federally approved electric transmission projects at one agency instead of requiring two NEPA reviews. Currently, the law requires two reviews, one at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and one at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

“Consolidating into one EIS, one NEPA review just makes a lot of sense, saves a lot of time and there is no redundant use of resources,” Stanek responded.

In addition, Manchin asked the panel about a provision in the Building American Energy Security Act that would establish cost allocation principles for interstate transmission projects found to be in the national interest. This would ensure that the costs of a project are shared based on specific benefits received by customers.

“We’re proponents of including all reasonable reliability and economic benefits when it comes to the allocation costs. I think you’ve captured many of them there in your language,” Smyth of AEP said.