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Permitting's tough road ahead

Oil pipeline construction in Texas

Pipeline construction materials in Midland, Texas. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Permitting talks look dormant right now — but some lawmakers and lobbyists see a narrow window to get something done before the end of 2024.

Why it matters: Fossil fuel, mining and renewable power companies are in agreement over the push for changes to environmental laws to make it easier to get projects underway.

  • There's a ton of IRA and IIJA money at stake here, and the federal government has limited time to get it all out the door.

What's happening: In the House, the Energy and Commerce Committee today is marking up industry-specific permitting and licensing bills.

  • That includes Cathy McMorris Rodgers' hydropower permits package and a bipartisan slate of bills to overhaul licensing and siting for advanced nuclear projects.
  • In the Senate, meanwhile, Joe Manchin told Axios Monday night that he and John Barrasso are "about 60, 70 percent" of the way through writing a bipartisan permitting proposal.
  • "I swear, the staffs are really deep into it, and I think everything's been going along pretty good," Manchin said as he strolled through the Senate basement. "We just have to find time to do it."

Yes, but: We're getting awfully close to election-season silliness. Talk of a broad permitting bill went quiet after the debt ceiling deal, when the Hill got consumed in tumultuous spending negotiations.

  • Plus, even minor industry priorities — nuclear licensing and National Environmental Policy Act exemptions for semiconductor projects — look likely to drop out of the final defense bill.
  • "The window seems to be closing," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told Axios today. "I think there's a lot of interest on the Democratic side. It's very difficult for the Republican side to find agreement on any subject at all."

What they're saying: "We need to get to permitting reform, but it has fallen by the wayside, simply because there's so much else on the plate," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito told Axios.

  • Rep. Garret Graves said Republicans still harbor concerns about how the Biden administration is implementing the NEPA changes Congress made in the debt ceiling deal.
  • Speaker Mike Johnson is "supportive" of a second round of permitting legislation, Graves said. "But we have to make sure the White House does the first round appropriately first."

Zoom in: American Clean Power sees a short legislative timeline to get something done before the election season really gets churning.

  • "What's fundamentally changed is that there is now a pretty strong consensus across the energy industry about the need for permitting reform and the core elements of that package," said ACP CEO Jason Grumet.
  • That means transmission policy overhauls paired with limitations on judicial challenges under NEPA and provisions to make it easier to build pipelines.

What we're watching: Any grand bargain is going to necessitate some kind of bipartisan gang, likely driven primarily by the Senate.

  • Alex Herrgott, president of The Permitting Institute, said he doesn't think Johnson needs to be a major player for a bill to come together because there is so much bipartisan interest at the committee level.
  • He likened permitting talks to a volcano simmering under the surface: "Although it might be extinguished by external events and other appropriations bills and international conflicts, the issues aren't going away.
  • Sen. Martin Heinrich similarly told Axios that he wants to be ready to move. "It's important that people continue to work on permitting reform, because at some point, we'll have an opportunity."
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